MAGNARD: Symphony No. 3 in B-flat Minor, Op. 11; D’INDY: Symphony No. 1 in G Major on a French Mountain Air, Op. 25 – Robert Casadesus, piano/ Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet – Cascavelle

by | Nov 6, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MAGNARD: Symphony No. 3 in B-flat Minor, Op. 11; D’INDY: Symphony No. 1 in G Major on a French Mountain Air, Op. 25 – Robert Casadesus, piano/ Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet

Cascavelle VEL 3128, 64:56 [Distr. by Albany] ****:


The extended Ernest Ansermet Edition continues to reissue fascinating documents, and here we have a fine pairing, the Symphony No. 3 (c. 1905) by Alberic Magnard (1865-1914) from 25 September 1968, and the D’Indy Symphony on a French Mountain Air (5 October 1955) with the esteemed French virtuoso Robert Casadesus (1899-1972).  Ansermet (1883-1969) spoke of Magnard as among the few Gallic symphonists “who has given us an example of an authentic French symphony. . .whose Third and Fourth Symphonies should not be forgotten and where polyphony is reduced to its simplest expression and melody reigns supreme.” This performance of the Third Symphony proved to be the last (live) recording Ansermet made with his beloved OSR.

Curiously, although Ansermet denies Magnard his Germanic influences, rarely has a French symphony resounded with so many hints of Anton Bruckner, in its use of fourths, fifths, and octaves, and the extended presence of pedal points on which the harmonic shifts turn. The cyclical architecture in Magnard emanates from the Belgian school of Cesar Franck and the direct tutelage with Vincent D’Indy, with whom Magnard studied counterpoint for four years. Ansermet coaxes a surly majesty out of the OSR strings and woodwinds for the large Introduction et ouverture, the harmonies often suggestive of trends in those American composers who took their composition and polyphony lessons with Nadia Boulanger. The second movement, marked Danses (tres vif) makes lively gestures that remind one of Borodin, except that the counter theme comes directly from the rustic tradition, a sound Stravinsky wants when the French spirit calls. An admirable cantilena for solo oboe marks the lovely Pastorale movement, a chromatically engaging pastoral of noble serenity. The last movement, Final, urges forward with a resolve and plastic nuance that several times reminds me of the virtuosic hauteur in young Charles Ives. In moments of repose amid a stormy sea of sound, the music heralds lofty visions akin to Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler. A chorale melody rises above the sea of mists, powerful and insistent, the work moving by dint of Ansermet’s febrile energy–and the OSR brass in might form–to a declamatory, triumphant, colorfully active conclusion.

Robert Casadesus claimed that he and Ansermet worked together so often that they performed virtually every orchestral piece in the pianist’s vast repertory. Having played and recorded the  D’Indy Symphony No. 1 with George Weldon, Charles Munch, and Eugene Ormandy, Casadesus has its gloriously busy piano obbligato well in hand, and rarely have the surging colors enjoyed such ravishing realizations as in the support from Ansermet and the OSR. Both diaphanous and inflamed the tremolos and detached notes in the strings bristle with excitement, and Casadesus’ runs and arpeggios were never more scintillating.  If I did not know better, I would ascribe this incendiary inscription to another of the Casadesus/ Mitropoulos collaborations, so intensely integrated and monumental are the resonant harmonies! Perhaps the best, most satisfying Gallic music-making I have heard this year.

–Gary Lemco


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