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David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2019

If Alberic Magnard’s music never made him fame or fortune, it was his dogged defence of his rural home in the First World War that made him a French hero. He was only forty-eight at the time and had just completed his Fourth Symphony in 1913, when the advancing Germany army threatened his home and family, both of which he tried to defend. Born into an affluent middle-class family, he left his university studies in law after seeing a performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, deciding he would become a composer. His mentor became Vincent d’Indy, and on completion of his studies he moved into the countryside, taking him away from exposure to the changing styles in the musical world. With his continual and dedicated search for perfection, he had only completed twenty-one published works at the time of his death. That he had experienced the music of Bruckner is apparent to such a point that it would be convenient, if not totally factual, to describe him as a ‘French Bruckner’, though while that describes the weight of his scoring, it does not relate to time scale, neither work on this disc reaching forty minutes. Performances in the concert hall are extremely rare, my only previous contact with his music coming some many years ago when reviewing a recording of the symphonies by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The Third opens with a very forceful ‘Introduction and Ouverture’ establishing Magnard owed little to the school of French symphonic writing, two movements that lighten the texture, taking us back to the powerful opening, this time with a more joyful atmosphere. Completed in 1896, it was fourteen more years before he began work on the Fourth, the score, he related, having a three year gestation period that was musically painful. Yet its shape and content runs parallel to the Third, the scherzo being hugely enjoyable, and only in the following slow movement do we find a troubled mind. I will not compare in detail these performances with the BBC recordings, for the Freiburg version is on all counts, my recommendation, the conductor, Fabrice Bollon, seemingly deep into Magnard’s psyche while his orchestra’s response is outstanding in an exceptionally fine sound quality. I fervently hope they will now add the first two symphonies. © 2019 David’s Review Corner

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