Patrick Davin / Henri Demarquette / Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra

Léon Boëllmann: Symphonie en fa majeur; Variations symphoniques; Quatre Pièces brèves

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Léon Boëllmann: Symphonie en fa majeur; Variations symphoniques; Quatre Pièces brèves Review

by James Manheim

Composer Léon Boëllmann died at 35 of tuberculosis, and he is generally known today only for a few organ pieces. Two of the three orchestral works recorded here seem to be receiving their modern premieres, and even the Variations Symphoniques for cello and orchestra, Op. 23, has been taken up by just a few cellists. All are worthwhile and would enliven any symphonic concert. Given Boëllmann's time and place, it is not surprising to find Franck as an influence in the Symphony in F major, Op. 24, but Boëllmann is even more oriented toward counterpoint than Franck. Listen to the second movement, Allegro ben marcato, which is a kind of set of fugal variations. One might say that it's a symphony an organ composer would write, yet there is nothing academic about the music, and Boëllmann is a gifted melodist. Another influence is Saint-Saëns, especially audible in the Quatre pièces brèves pour cordes ("Four Short Pieces for Strings"), elegant little things of the sort that were really neoclassic music before such a thing was named. The final Andantino is an especially exquisite piece. Conductor Patrick Davin leads the Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse in an idiomatic performance that takes on added emotional weight, in that it was the last recording made by Davin before his sudden death at a young age in 2020; it was released posthumously. This is a real find, containing music of great value that has been lost through accidents of history.

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