In all, Louis Théodore Gouvy wrote seven symphonies. With this recent release from cpo of the composer's Symphony No. 4, Op. 25 (1855), the Symphony No. 6, Op. 58 (also known as Symphonie brève; variations et rondo pour orchestre) and the Fantaisie Symphonique, this much needed first cycle of Gouvy's symphonies, from conductor Jacques Mercier and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, is complete. The critical press received previous installments in the series warmly and if you have been following it, you won't need my encouragement to get a hold of this latest installment. If not, however ...
Louis Théodore Gouvy (1819-1898) was a composer of chamber music and symphonies who was working in his native France at a time when only ballet and opera mattered to Paris (which explains the lack of French symphonies coming from the 19th-century). Gouvy looked to connections in Leipzig to have his music performed, and to the symphonic heritage in Germany for his inspiration. Premiered in Leipzig, the success of his Symphony No. 1 gave him notice in France, with praise for it's German formal rigor and French elegance. For a time, both countries claimed him as their own, but after his death, there seemed to be no place for a French composer who wrote German music, and his scores fell into neglect.
What a shame. This is music of astonishingly high quality to be heard here in absolutely first rate performances! From the very opening of the Fourth you can hear influences of Mendelssohn and Schumann in the romantic-classical style, Beethoven in the short thematic motifs and rhythmic energy, and Schubert in the elegance and development of his melodic lines. It was very difficult selecting a excerpt to feature for this recommendation, because it's all so darn good. I did want to provide a complete movement to illustrate Gouvy's mastery in matters of form, so please take a few minutes to enjoy the closing Alla breve of Louis Théodore Gouvy's Fantaisie Symphonique, and remember there's about an hour more of great music from Gouvy on this superb cpo release.
Conclusion of an Original Symphonic Edition
This month we are concluding our Gouvy Edition featuring symphonic works by this German-French composer. Théodore Gouvy was born in 1819 in Goffontaine (today’s Scheidt-Schafbrücke), just outside Saarbrücken. His later life as a musician also went back and forth between Germany and France. When he died in 1898, he was regarded as a Frenchman in Germany and as a German in France. No other foreign composer’s works were performed as frequently in the 1850s in Leipzig as those by Gouvy. The influence of the allemands in France may have been a motivating factor in his decision in favor of the typical German genres of the symphony (and later of chamber music). Although Gouvy’s fourth symphony creates the impression of an absolutely tragic, gloomy work when compared to its predecessors, the positive resonance of this D minor symphony continued on the success of his earlier symphonies. Fellow composers such as Ambroise Thomas and Charles Gounod attended its Paris premiere in 1856 and were moved to amazed admiration, while the feuilletons approvingly wrote how "finely thought out, expansively developed, and clearly and brilliantly written" the score was. And in the two other works heard here, the Symphonie brève op. 58 and the Fantaisie symphonique, Gouvy once again demonstrates the bravura and clarté that earned him esteem from his contemporaries. "Melodic richness, natural sovereignty in the treatment of harmony, and a very unforced originality make Gouvy’s music absolute listening pleasure. The German Radio Philharmonic performs very nuancedly under Jacques Mercier from Lorraine, and the recordings are also convincing tonally.
Gouvy was a man of two cultures, divided between France and Germany, from which he drew his inspiration, his characteristics and his force. While to a certain extent he was known and recognized in his lifetime, he fell into obscurity following his death. Gouvy, drawn toward pure instrumental music as opposed to opera, set himself the unenviable task of becoming a French symphonist.
Jacques Mercier, born in Metz in 1945, rapidly achieved international success. He has performed at the Salzburg Festival, and in Bucharest, Helsinski, and Madrid where the critics described him as “one of the best French and European conductors of his generation”. Between 1982 and 2002 Jacques Mercier was artistic director and permanent conductor of the Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France.
Orchestra: German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie)
The German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is the most recently formed German radio symphony orchestra. Created in 2007 following the merger of the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra (SR) and the Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern (SWR), two of ARD’s tradition-steeped ensembles, the orchestra has quickly made a name for itself and earned its place among the renowned German radio orchestras.
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Théodore Gouvy: Fantaisie Symphonique - III Alla breve