FRANCIS CHAGRIN (1905-1972): Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 2.
Catalogue Number: 02R008
Description: These two very fine works, comprising Chagrin's entire output in symphonic form, elevate him to the company of the great British symphonists of the twentieth century. The versatile and prolific Romanian-born, French-educated, English-domiciled composer is now mainly thought of, if at all, as the author of many characterful, colorful, meticulously professional scores for film and television, and lighter music, but these symphonies are tough, serious works, uncompromising both emotionally and formally. The idiom is tonal, though subject to a fair degree of dissonance and harmonic experimentation, especially in the Second Symphony. The First was started just after WWII, though much interrupted by professional commitments, ill health and the composer's painstaking approach to careful decision-making and revision in assembling his works, and did not achieve its final form until 1965. Chagrin acknowledged the effect of the war on the piece; this is very evident in the aggressive first movement and the scherzo, though the latter gives way to some lighter, wistfully reflective moments and a reminiscence of a waltz. The slow movement is lyrical and beautiful, though sad, and the finale is energetic and more than a little reminiscent of Prokofiev. It contains a passage recalling the sombre adagio opening of the first movement, and the work ends with a reprise of the bellicose music from that movement. If the first symphony is warlike, the second is even more disturbingly belligerent. The composer's rather dry, somewhat misleading program note, detailing the work's hexatonic harmony (allowing ample scope for dissonance, major-minor clashes and the possibility (never fully realized) of atonality), its structure and extravagant orchestration, gives no hint of what haunts this music and prompts such violence, but as a product of the composer's last years, after the heart condition that was to kill him manifested itself, it may not be fanciful to see this as a final raging against the dying of the light. The first movement consists of a series of strident outbursts of unbridled aggression, the very large percussion section fully utilised in a series of pounding, violent climaxes. These alternate with harmonically ambiguous, floating passages of unease and tension. Chagrin describes the slow movement as 'calm and romantic', but this unrelentingly uneasy, tormented music is anything but. It has its undeniable beauty and fluency, but its passion is that of fear, not uplift. The inventively scored scherzo does offer a kind of hectic gaiety, but even here, strange misshapen shadows are prone to fall, and the boisterous energy seems forced. The finale begins with a granitic chorale, pillars through which the spectres of previous movements parade and jostle for attention. The movement is terrifyingly static, a series of graven tableaux with no real development, just an obsessive revisitation of things better left forgotten. It ends in cataclysm, then silence. BBC Symphony Orchestra; Martyn Brabbins.