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GOUVY: “The Complete Symphonies” = Symphonies No. 1 – 6, etc. – cond. by Jacques Mercier – CPO (4 CDs)

LOUIS THÉODORE GOUVY: “The Complete Symphonies” = Symphonies No. 1 – 6; Fantaisie Symphonique; Symphony brève; Sinfonietta – Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/ Saarbrücken Kaiserlautern/Jacques Mercier – CPO 777-992-2 (4 CDs) [Distr. by Naxos](7/31/15) TT: 239:43 ***:

Obscure to be sure but mostly worth the trip.

If you’ve always wanted a set of the complete symphonies by Louis Théodore Gouvy now is your chance.

Clearly, Gouvy is not a household name but these works are all various degrees of entertaining and charming. Gouvy was born in 1819 as a Prussian in what was then a suburb of Saarbrücken named Goffontaine (today known as Scheidt-Schafbrücke.) By the time he died in 1898, the French considered him a German composer and vice versa. According to CPO press release materials, no other non-native composer was performed as much in Leipzig during the last half of the nineteenth century as was Gouvy. I definitely had not heard of him or his music until this impressive set from CPO.

Musically, I can honestly say that each of the works included here is a nice, light and entertaining listen. I was most impressed with the first and last symphonies. There is a breezy, light and attractive feel to his first symphony that sounded a great deal like light opera overtures in places and contains lots of very nice wind solos (as do all the works, really.) I also found the comparative ‘weighty-ness’ of the Symphony No. 6 interesting (in which he quotes some of his other works; a habit at the time.)

Stylistically, what we get in all these Gouvy works in something that contains elements of Offenbach, Herold, Weber, Spohr and von Suppé. That frames the style I hope but also echoes the impression I got when listening; that without knowing at all what was playing one would guess any of the aforementioned composers.

Truthfully, I cannot say that any of these works is what I would consider “great” music but nor did any of it strike me as drivel to be dismissed accordingly. All of these works are pleasant and uncomplicated and easy to listen to (although I admit I did not get much out of his somewhat adventuresome Fantaisie Symphonique.)

In Hamburg-Haut there is apparently an annual “International Théodore Gouvy Festival” and someone with a French film company has recently made a documentary, The Mysterious Gouvy, so clearly he has a following. The performances here by two different orchestras under the direction of Gouvy expert Jacques Mercier are very good; this box set being four previously released discs from CPO using these same recordings.

I know people (mostly conductors) who live for the lesser known who would probably love to get their hands on this. For the average listener, I am afraid that Louis Théodore Gouvy will remain an obscurity. So, I encourage people to take the initiative to listen to these excellent recordings from this composer who wrote in the shadow of Offenbach and von Weber. I am positive no one will find it time wasted and you may enjoy these works even more than I did.

—Daniel Coombs

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