Martyn Brabbins conducts Chagrin

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COMPOSERS: Francis Chagrin
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Chagrin
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.571371

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Composers of film music need the ventriloquist’s gift, altering their voice to suit the subject at hand. But composers of symphonies require something more. This didn’t pose a problem in post-war Britain for Malcolm Arnold and Benjamin Frankel, who wrote 17 symphonies between them. But the cosmopolitan, Romanian-born Francis Chagrin, equally busy in celluloid, managed just two. From first sketch to last revision, the Symphony No. 1 took 19 years, and the effort is audible in its strenuous, impersonal discourse – far from the kind of scampering jollities featured on Chandos’s CD of his British film music. This is a symphony with a scowl on its face, and bitterness twisting its lips.

The Second Symphony, completed in 1971, one year before his death, is much more individual and fluent, and the prime reason to purchase this disc. Still largely troubled in mood, it’s cogently argued and often given a touch of the fantastic from the percussion-spattered orchestrations. The dry BBC studio acoustic doesn’t add any sparkle of its own, but Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra remain excellent guides to the score’s closely-worked wonders. After this peak, you can only regret that life didn’t allow Chagrin any time for a Symphony No. 3.

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Geoff Brown