Milhaud: Symphony No. 3; The Bells; Saudades do Brasil (excerpts)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Milhaud
LABELS: Olympia Explorer
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; The Bells; Saudades do Brasil (excerpts)
PERFORMER: Irina Kameneva (soprano), Elena Zolotova (alto), Victor Obnosov (tenor), Alexander Kapustiansky (bass); Russian State Symphonic Cappella/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CATALOGUE NO: OCD 452
Enormous quantity need not equal enormous quality, and Darius Milhaud remained a craftsman of distinction to the last. Yet it’s hard not to feel that much of his 441-opus output is little more than highly accomplished doodling to order. The symphonies here follow the line of angular melody and jagged orchestration that Prokofiev stopped using after his ballets Le pas d’acier and On the Dnieper – surely inadequate forms of expression for the end-of-war theme of the Third Symphony (1946).

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Rozhdestvensky seems to have spent all the rehearsal time of his 1993 Milhaud concert on the ballet score The Bells, especially on its rhythmically complex, if unsexy, concluding Bacchanale, for the Symphony is scrappily played, ill-focused and features four woeful fourth-movement soloists (their contribution is mercifully brief).

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Alun Francis’s continuing championship of Milhaud with this excellent Swiss ensemble, on the other hand, is exactly what’s needed: spruce, thoroughly prepared, perfectly expressive of the deeper currents in the slow movement of the Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies, and finely engineered in a clean, truthful acoustic. Still, the three American commissions on his latest issue don’t add up to the one Milhaud issue necessary to most listener’s collections: that has to be Bernstein’s lurid EMI mix of Harlem jazz and Latin America in La création du monde and Le boeuf sur la toit. David Nice