Thursday, 10 March 2016

Francis Chagrin Symphony No. 1: Review in The Times.

Further to my post presenting the composer’s thoughts on his Symphony No. 1, I post a major review of the work given in The Times (17 March 1966). The work, performed at the St Pancras Festival, was part of an important concert given at the Odeon Swiss Cottage which featured not only Chagrin’s Symphony, but also Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique along with Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto.  Although the work was given its public premiere on 15 March 1956, it had been given a studio broadcast in 15 November 1963 with Stanford Robinson conducting the BBC Norther Orchestra. It is good to know that the Odeon at Swiss Cottage is still extant.

‘Francis Chagrin’s Symphony, which was broadcast about three years ago, [15 November 1963] received its first public performance at the Odeon, Swiss Cottage, on Tuesday, with the composer conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Chagrin is the most versatile of musicians and as conductor of the well-known ensemble that bears his name, he is intimately acquainted with a large variety of different styles. But as a composer he does not appear to have a personality strong enough to withstand these influences, which may explain why his symphony lacks the stamp of a marked individuality, striking the listener as the work of a typical eclectic. Indeed, there were recognizable echoes in it of Mahler, Berg and Shostakovich.
Nevertheless, on second hearing the work seems to gain in stature. Above all, it is a true symphony both in its material and its elaboration – in other words, it grows organically and cogently. Its four movements are concise in form and their argument interesting and well sustained. While it seems to spring from a central mood of bitterness and disharmony its contrasting facets are effectively mirrored in the individual movements. All in all, a thoughtful and well-wrought work which despite its lack if an original language would repay further hearings.

The rest of the programme, Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique and the Piano Concerto by Khachaturian, was conducted by the young Israeli, Mr. Moshe Atzmon. His account of the symphony was one of the most vital we have heard in recent time – taut in rhythm, with a compelling sense of drama and an ear for Tchaikovsky’s sensuous lyrical phrase. The orchestra was on top of its form, which could not be said of its playing of the Chagrin.
Miss Pnina Salzman, the soloist in the Khachaturian work, brought to the work an accomplished technique and musically attempted to make the most of what is, with the exception of the Andante, rather blatant music.’ 
The Times 17 March 1966. 

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