Sergei Levitin / Martin Yates / Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Charles-Marie Widor: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 1; La Nuit de Walpurgis

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Charles-Marie Widor is best known for his ten organ symphonies, particularly for the Toccata from the Symphony No. 5, though he is virtually forgotten as a composer of orchestral works. This hybrid SACD from Dutton Laboratories brings attention to two of Widor's earliest compositions, the Symphony No. 1, Op. 16 (1870), and the Violin Concerto (1877), along with a later symphonic poem for orchestra, La nuit de Walpurgis, Op. 60 (1887). Widor's music reflects changes in French taste following the devastating Franco-Prussian war, showing a marked preoccupation with German music. The First Symphony appears to reflect the Romanticism of Schumann and Brahms, while the Violin Concerto is a bit more Gallic in flavor, suggesting that Widor had by then absorbed the influence of Saint-Saƫns, as well as of Liszt. These pieces have their appeal but lack the strong character and brilliant orchestration that make La nuit de Walpurgis stand out on the program as a dramatic depiction of a witches' sabbath, inspired by Berlioz but powerfully rendered in Wagnerian style. Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra deliver these pieces with great precision and vitality, and the Violin Concerto is a fine vehicle for soloist Sergey Levitin, who plays with a rich, singing tone and passionate expression. This album may not start a full-scale revival of Widor's instrumental music, but it is well worth hearing for its charming moments and occasional flashes of genius.

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