Yan Pascal Tortelier / Iceland Symphony Orchestra

Gounod: Symphonies

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Charles Gounod is hardly known for his symphonies, but the two examples here were completed around the time of the St. Cecilia Mass, which made Gounod's fame. You would be unlikely to identify the composer of these works in an information vacuum, however. Gounod had befriended both Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn; the latter introduced Gounod to Bach, and the former, before his death, encouraged Gounod's symphonic efforts. There is a great deal of Mendelssohn in these two modest works, a bit of Schubert, perhaps, and in the Symphony No. 2 in E flat major a competently executed bit of Beethoven. The Symphony No. 1 in D major in turn inspired Bizet, Gounod's student, to write the better-known Symphony in C major. The melodies of Gounod's work are not quite in that league, but there's a sense of fun in the music that's very French despite its origins in German symphonic form. It's this quality that veteran French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier understands and finds in the music, where it is sometimes a little submerged. He's aided by the underrated Iceland Symphony Orchestra, for which these pieces are not part of the textbooks as they might be for French musicians. A delightful find for Gounod lovers.

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