July 2007

Gounod - Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä, Patrick Gallois cond.
Naxos 8.557463
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Charles Gounod composed both of his symphonies at about the same time -- in 1855. The First served as model for the celebrated Symphony in C major composed that year by his pupil Georges Bizet. Bizet’s Symphony, which was not heard until 1935, is an out-and-out charmer that quickly took its place in the standard repertory. Gounod’s symphonies are not of the same magical quality, but they are not without interest in their own right, and Patrick Gallois makes a splendid case for them.

In the First, his fast movements are faster than ever, while the two inner ones may strike some listeners as being unnaturally distended, though they do hold together because Gallois seems so genuinely involved. The Second is unexpectedly -- and convincingly -- grand. While both Michel Plasson and Neville Marriner, in their earlier recordings of the two symphonies, got through No. 2 in about a half-hour, Gallois takes an additional ten minutes. That big difference is not explained by slower tempos -- Gallois is the very soul of fleetness and vivacity -- but by his taking repeats which the other conductors ignore. Gallois apparently sees the Second Symphony as a bigger work, and he invests his reading, especially the finale, with a Mendelssohnian breadth and grandeur that really seem to fit.

He comes no closer than Marriner to matching Plasson’s infectious shaping of the finale’s principal theme, but he has his Finnish orchestra sounding world class. The clarinet and other winds are downright delicious, the trumpet is characterful, the drums have a splendid presence, the strings are ripe and secure -- and the spacious, well-balanced sound does it all full justice.