GOUNOD: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 – Sinfonia Finlandia Jyvaskla/ Patrick Gallois, conductor – Naxos 8.557463, 68:14 ****:

There are only two really competitive issues challenging the one at hand. Neville Marriner and the ASMF created a sparkling album for Philips that also includes the ballet music from Faust on a full price disc that has led the pack—such as it is—for several years. What you get there is typical of the Marriner style and attention to details, always clean, elegant, and presented in a fashion as to be well nigh exempt from criticism. John Lubbock and his orchestra of St. John’s Smith Square enters the fray with an ASV release that is even pricier than the Marriner, but also very well done with superb sound and a more lithe, tighter ensemble, somewhat different from the larger conception of Marriner. Either will provide much pleasure, assuming that Gounod is worth the price to you.

But now we have this new release from flutist Patrick Gallois and his Finnish band that knocks the socks off these other two in the pricing realm, and offers playing at least as refined conceptually, though perhaps not quite as technically adept. I do detect a few passages of inconsistent ensemble in these recordings—something you never hear in a Marriner recording for example—but at the same time the interpretative felicities are on par with anything that has come before, and I could be quite satisfied with this as an only recording. Gounod gets fairly short shrift these days, even though Faust was once a mainstay of every major opera house in the world. His music now seems passé, a little too Victorian and sentimental, an acquired (and questionable) taste. This is most unfair to the composer, whose reputation was once that of a lion among artists, and his death was mourned all over Europe.

The first symphony is about as Mendelssohnian as anything you will ever hear, perhaps not along the wonderful and tightly argued lines of Bizet’s symphony, but very pleasing nonetheless. Most people seem to prefer it to the second, but the latter to me is by far the more important work, though both were written in the same year. The second may be said to lean more towards Beethoven, though too close a comparison serves neither composer well. Taken on its own, this is an enormously attractive, tuneful work that will grant much pleasure to any hearer not over-prejudiced against the composer. He was great in his time, and has left us some substantive, important music that deserves revival. These two pieces are among the most important. The sound is very good, mid-concert hall seating.

— Steven Ritter