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Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, June 2007

Newly recorded and highly competitive readings of neglected works.

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.

Robert McColley
Fanfare, April 2007

"Charles Gounod (1818-1893), internationally famous for his grand opera Faust, composed both these symphonies in 1855. By that time, he was an accomplished and well-traveled musician, but not famous, and the symphonies went unperformed and, before the LP era, unrecorded. All the critics I read are unanimous that this is a shame. Though not among the towering masterpieces of the genre, both are perfect within their modest intentions. Among words and terms that fairly describe them are cheerful, polished, attractively scored, deftly organized, melodious, and economical. Now that they are available, listeners seem to like the First (here 29 minutes long) a bit better than the Second (almost 40 minutes), if they show any preference at all.

Gounod's Symphony No. 1 is most often discussed as the model for the Symphony in C of his 17-year-old student, Georges Bizet. The two works are similar in length, mood, orchestration, and faithfulness to classical models. Furthermore, both remained unknown until modern times. But Gounod as a symphonist sounds like a French Mendelssohn, whereas his student, subsequently world-famous for Carmen, already sounds like himself. However, if the student's essay deserves greater fame than its model, that is no reason for neglecting the fine work of the older composer.

Conductor and flautist Patrick Gallois recorded these symphonies with the Sinfonia Finlandia of Jyväskylä in May 2004. The performances are alert, disciplined, expressive, and beautifully recorded, making a highly recommendable disc."

Andrew Fraser
Limelight, January 2007

With pupils including Bizet, Faure and Massenet and admirers like Tchaikovsky, Poulenc and Ravel, it is clear that Charles Gounod (1818­1893) knew a thing or two about composition. It is also clear when one listens to these (his only symphonies - both written in 1855) that he was a good student of history. Both are four movement works; both occupy the sound world of the first half of the nineteenth century. In fact, the influence of Beethoven looms large over everything; this is most apparent in the finale of the First Symphony or the opening movement of the Second. Even the most forward looking music here, the Larghetto (non troppo) of the Second Symphony, with its pre-echoes of Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations, only does so because both composers are looking back to Beethoven. On top of the basic mix of Beethovenian elements, sprinkle some lively Mendelssohnian string passages and the recipe is complete. It would be easy to dismiss this music as simply derivative, but that would deny its obvious charms. Both symphonies are delightful, light­hearted and beautifully crafted. Patrick Gallois and the Sinfonia Finlandia perform this music in a most apt manner, striking just the right balance between parody and earnestness. The recorded sound is good and despite the temptation to play 'pick the influence' there is much to enjoy here.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2006

If Bizet's popular Symphony #1 is modelled after Gounod's first, it in turn - at least the second movement - sounds almost like a rewrite of the 2nd movement, also an allegretto - of Beethoven's Seventh. Not to complain, though, all three works are deserving of highest praise, as is Gounod's Symphony No. 2. The Sinfonia Finlandia is a first-rate band, Patrick Gallois an up-and-coming star of the podium, and the acoustics perfect. These are works not frequently recorded - certainly not on domestic labels - and may be the only ones available.

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