Tuesday 29 March 2016

Naxos’ World Premiere Recordings of Francis Chagrin’s two symphonies performed by Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra reveal a composer with distinctive ideas and fine orchestration

British composer Francis Chagrin (1905-1972) was born Alexander Paucker in Bucharest, Rumania. He left his country to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Paul Dukas. It was in Paris that he adopted the name Francis Chagrin (translating as grief, sorrow or unhappiness) reflecting his sadness over his failed marriage and disinheritance by his family for pursuing a career in music.

Chagrin arrived in Britain in 1936 where he married again and had two children. He founded the Society for the Promotion of New Music. His own compositions include some 200 film scores as well as songs and orchestral works.

Of his orchestral works there are two symphonies that range across his working life in Britain. These two works now receive their World Premiere Recordings on a new release form Naxos www.naxos.com featuring the BBC Symphony Orchestra www.bbc.co.uk/symphonyorchestra  conducted by Martyn Brabbins http://intermusica.co.uk/artist/Martyn-Brabbins

Symphony No.1 (1946-59, rev. 1965) opens ponderously with a Largo in the lower orchestra before rising up into the energetic Allegro, striding forward in broad strokes with a colourful use of brass. Full of breadth and power, it finds its way through passages of varying tempo and drama, later falling to a wistful passage for woodwind over pulsating strings before picking up momentum to lead energetically to the coda that just seems to stop.

The second movement Largo emerges from the basses to reveal a slow, dark theme, full of broad shifting harmonies. There are some lovely woodwind passages before the music suddenly rises in a dramatic, passionate section. There is a brief moment where a solo violin weaves a plaintive theme as well as many individual instrumental details as the music finds its way slowly ahead. Often there is the feel of a heavy burden behind the music. Later, brass raise the music up through a glorious passage, before woodwind take the theme forward, finding a quite affecting sense of grief.

The Presto scherzando opens purposefully with a rising motif that swirls around the orchestra, finding moments of lighter mood in between the drama. The rising theme continually returns before the music reaches a climax. Later there is a slow, delicate woodwind passage that precedes a slower romantic string section, but it is the predominate rising motif that takes the music to the coda.

The Allegro brings a fast moving, dancing staccato theme for woodwind and strings that rises through some striding passages before another rising motif is heard. The woodwind and brass take the dancing theme forward bringing a passage of tremendous forward movement. Soon there is a dark rather menacing passage that slowly expands, leading to the return of the opening theme. The music reaches a peak before falling to a rather reflective moment soon overtaken by percussion and timpani. A harp plays a descending figuration as the strings find the more settled coda.

This is an attractive work that brings a great sense of breadth and freedom.

Symphony No.2 (1965-1971) opens with an aggressive, strident Allegro that soon reduces in thrust as various instrumental ideas are introduced. Chagrin creates some rather magical colours and textures before the music rises again, moving through many varying ideas as the theme is taken forward with further fine orchestral textures. Later the opening stridency returns as drums enter to add to the drama, yet the music has a heavy weight that seems to drag the strident theme down. After reaching a peak of dynamics the music quietens, yet the faster strident theme can be heard in the distance. There are more colourful orchestral textures before the music finds a huge climax after which the music strides to the thundering coda – a moment of tremendous power and drive, offset by moments of beautiful textures.

After the increasingly powerful allegro, the Molto lento opens slowly with orchestral instruments slowly blossoming, first the woodwind, then strings, then brass and then strings again before the woodwind move the music ahead a little. The orchestral blossomings return but again the orchestra tries to lead the music forward in a little theme. There is always a sense of underlying tension in this really distinctive movement. Later the music finds a forward movement as it rises in passion but the opening motif always returns, though now with increased drama. Towards the end there are moments of beautifully translucent orchestration before finding the quieter coda.

Scherzo (Presto) brings a light, good natured theme for woodwind to which brass join, bringing a slight dissonance. Chagrin brings more of his distinctive and finely coloured orchestration and fine textures before the music darts ahead in some more strident passages echoed by gentler responses.

The Andante opens with a repeated rhythmic motif for orchestra before a lighter textured variation arrives. The music moves through a chordal passage of increasing fervour and dynamics before more of Chagrin’s by now familiar little rising sequences. This composer brings many subtleties as he slowly develops his theme, rising to a climax before regaining the original rhythmic motif. There are moments of lighter, less intense music before reaching a broader climatic section before the main rhythmic theme brings about a terrific climax to conclude.  

This is a terrific symphony from a composer with distinctive ideas and fine orchestration. 

Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra provide first rate performances. They receive an excellent recording from the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio 1, London and there are useful and informative booklet notes.

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