Antonio De Almeida: Charles Tournemire Symphonies Nos 4 and 5

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Charles Tournemire - Symphony No. 4 "Pages Symphoniques" Op. 44 (1912)
Conducted by Antonio De Almeida with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

Brittany was once more the source of inspiration of the Fourth Symphony, "Pages symphoniques", Opus 44. This was written and orchestrated quickly by Tournemire in the summer of 1912, near Perros-Guirec, since the surviving sketches date from 6th July, with the piano reduction of the orchestral score carrying the dates 15th July - 12th September 1912. Of all the symphonies of Tournemire the Fourth, which has also been given the subtitle Symphonietta, is, from a formal point of view, the freest. This is perhaps due to the fact that, unlike the other symphonies, it appears as a pure work of music, with five movements that have no reference to any literary or precise philosophical argument. The composer is content simply to indicate that the work "exalts the poetry of Brittany". The thematic structure is more diversified, the cyclical procedure applied with more flexibility in a sound context of less dramatic tension. The orchestration, with its use of solo instruments, particularly in the lower woodwind, and its remarkable use of the harps, brings several surprises, not least the presence of the organ in the central movement of the score.

The first theme is played by viola solo, accompanied by a cello solo, in a movement marked Assez lent, with a second theme allocated to the cor anglais. The fluidity of the orchestration of this introductory "page" is noticeable, leading to an Allegro marked avec du mouvement, of which the principal idea is derived from the first theme. The structure of this movement alternates three times the Allegro with slower episodes, the first re-appearance of the Allegro leading to a development that unwinds little by little to introduce mysteriously the second section of the symphony, marked Modéré. A change of climate is brought about by the entry of the organ which, at the sound of the bell, engages in a dialogue with the strings, in a harmonisation of the second theme. This lyrical episode leads, with the bass clarinet, to a sort of scherzo, marked Vif, also derived from the second theme. The last "symphonic page" is slow, moved by a feeling of contemplative joy.

The Fourth Symphony was first performed on 12th March 1916 in Paris at the Châtelet by the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne together with that of the Concerts Lamoureux under the direction of Camille Chevillard with the organist Eugène Gigout.

Symphony No. 5 "De La Montagne" Op. 47 (1913)

Conducted by Antonio De Almeida with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

I. Choral Varie - 00:00
II. Pastorale - 16:36
III. Vers La Lumiere - 27:08

The composition of the Fifth Symphony in F minor, Opus 47, took place in two stages, the first in August 1913 in Switzerland, at the foot of the Saint-Gothard, and the second during the following summer at Thônes in Haute-Savoie, where the final double bar-line was written on 31st July, three days before the declaration of war. The work, which Tournemire dedicated to his wife, draws its inspiration from the mountains and combines this with the objective element of one of the favourite forms of the composer, the chorale, a subjective argument based on the idea of ascent towards the light. By coincidence Richard Strauss was working at the same time on his Alpine Symphony, in which the idea of ascent takes very much more concrete form. The first movement of the Fifth Symphony is in the form of chorale variations, the theme of which, announced by the woodwind, appears throughout the work. A commentary on the score indicates that this chorale with variations is inspired by the Alpine landscape, in which human anguish finds a powerful echo. The re-appearances of the chorale theme are separated by variations that alternate, slow-fast-slow-fast.

The second movement has two parts. First a pastorale that allows a delicate exploitation of the woodwind. Musically, the composer tells us, it is a Lied that is developed and is of a mystical character, exalting all the poetry of the mountain in its most intimate manifestations, where the smallest flower is a whole world, singing of the glory of the Eternal: all is peaceful and the heart is moved by the sounds of nature. The second part has the title Vers la lumière (Towards the light). There is a joyful round-dance where the theme of the chorale and of the pastorale join together, rising towards the heights in a great burst of sound, precursor of the celebrations of Heaven.

The Fifth Symphony was most often played in Tournemire's life-time. The first complete performance was at the Hague with the orchestra of the Concerts Diligentia under the direction of the composer on 10th March 1920. In France Gabriel Pierné, who had heard the first movement in 1918, directed a first performance with the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne at the Châtelet on 7th January 1923.