• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 3: The Greatest French Symphony (That You've Never Heard)!

Anyone that knows me and my musical taste also knows that I don't conduct much French music. It's not because I dislike it, or think that it's inferior in any way to other's just that I, by and large, don't get it. It simply doesn't resonate with me--that "spark" just isn't there; and, for me, that's essential. Sure, I'll eventually grow to better understand and appreciate a piece; but, without that spark, I'll probably never really love it. I call that repertoire and those composers my "blind spots." We've all got them.

There is one particular French masterpiece, though--alongside Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe--that remains a constant on my "must-conduct" shortlist: Ernest Chausson's Symphony in B-flat. The Symphony, written in 1890, is often compared to Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor...understandable seeing as Franck was Chausson's teacher; and both works are three-movement cyclical (i.e. themes that return across multiple movements) symphonies, composed just a few years apart, with a suspiciously similar tonal structure. Both works were also subject to lukewarm initial receptions, and remain concert rarities to this day...although the Franck is performed much more often, I think.

The Chausson has been recorded a few times over the years, and by some very notable pairings: Boston/Munch, San Francisco/Monteux, and Detroit/Paray all come to mind. My favorite recording, however, is the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande with Marek Janowski conducting. The rhythmic vitality of that performance, to my ears, simply can't be matched; and the very end of the final movement, when the first movement theme returns...pure magic. Happy listening! :)

(Also, weird fact... Chausson died in 1899 at the of 44, just as his career was beginning to flourish. He was riding his bicycle downhill, and crashed into a brick wall.)

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