Milhaud: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Overture méditerranéenne

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COMPOSERS: Milhaud
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7; Overture méditerranéenne
PERFORMER: Toulouse Capitole Orchestra/Michel Plasson
CATALOGUE NO: 439 939-2 DDD
The colourful and prolific Milhaud seems about as natural a pairing with the symphony as Brahms with operetta. Fair enough in one sense: he took the genre sufficently seriously to be an even later starter at it than Brahms, but not because people expected him to be the next Beethoven. Rather, he had to find his own natural way. These two symphonies, from the Fifties, are full of his melodic ardour and savoury harmony, which go together like oil and vinegar. Never crammed into some set form, they sustain their spans by evolution rather than argument, contrast rather than drama. No. 7 has chunky, concise bursts of vivacity, which surround an expansive slow movement with an atmosphere of oppression endured and lamented. As the doleful line begins to unwind, the initial violence never wholly disappears.

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The lazy, summery start to No. 7 sets off several reminders that the southern sun glares. This time the slow movement spreads a healing warmth out from the lower strings, underpinned by hard, granite-like chords. For finale the symphony has a stomping medieval dance, but the raciest music on the disc comes with the Overture, a brief burst of athletic flights and heavyweight skipping. Although the orchestra sounds smoothly international these days, the scores are so full of the Midi that you scarcely notice. Robert Maycock