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ALBERIC MAGNARD: SYMPHONIES NOS 1-4

BBC SCOTTISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA /

JEAN-YVES OSSONCE

HYPERION CDA67030 (1&2) / CDA67040 (3&4) RECORDED 1997

THE NOTION that Stravinsky's ballets hammered Parisian musical late- Romantic music out of existence is healthily confounded by the passionate and melodious works of Alberic Magnard (1865-1914). Magnard's Wagnerian allegiances burst forth unapologetically in the Third Symphony's last movement. Ostensibly outgoing, it recalls the fevered joy that Tristan felt when Isolde's ship loomed on the far horizon. And, like Tristan's Third Act, Magnard's finale whips up a joyous frenzy that soon slumps to melancholy. The remainder of the symphony toys with all manner of styles - Bruckner in the first movement, Borodin, perhaps, in the second - and yet still projects a strong and recognisable personality.

Like his contemporary Glazunov, Magnard had trouble with endings; but while the former waffled on, Magnard often drew to a premature halt.

The First Symphony opens with allusions to that gifted French Wagnerite, Ernest Chausson, and ends in the spirit of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, while the Second breezes in with Straussian exuberance. So many ideas crowd for development that it's difficult to keep track of them all at a single hearing. Which is where these CDs come into their own.

And who knows what Magnard would have achieved had he lived long enough to write a Fifth Symphony. The Fourth's bizarre heroics and harmonic sophistication offer strong food for thought, but just after Magnard had completed the score, fate intervened with a tragic blow. Having dispatched his family to safety, the composer defended his estate against an encroaching German cavalry unit, shot at least one soldier, then paid the price when the Germans torched his house. Magnard died in the fire, some of his works burning with him.

All the more reason to relish this set, with its excellent performances, spatially informative sound-frame and expert annotation. It's an absorbing musical encounter, one that should spawn its fare share of Magnard converts; but if you'd rather "dip your toe," then try the second disc first.

Rob Cowan

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