French Music For String Orchestra (CD)

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Ciconia Consort, Dick Van Gasteren

The first modern recording of a gripping 20th-century masterpiece for strings.

The name of Jacques Castérède (1926-2014) may not be well known outside his native France, but the taut and compelling Symphony for strings which he wrote at the age of 26 – his first major work – deserves far wider recognition. Tension runs high throughout the opening Modéré before breaking into a violent Scherzo in the manner of Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Shostakovich and indeed the Second Symphony of Arthur Honegger may be called to mind by the impassioned lyricism of the slow movement, which rises from darkness before discovering a point of radiant transfiguration in the movement’s coda. Restless counterpoint brings the finale to an exhilarating, emphatic conclusion.

The first recording of Castérède’s symphony won a Grand prix du disque, but it has taken half a century for the second to be made by this young and exciting Dutch string ensemble as the centrepiece of their debut on CD. Turbulent energy and sombre elegy are the key signatures of the imaginative programme: Honegger’s Second Symphony of 1937 explores the same expressive territory as Castérède’s Symphony, though its trumpet-led apotheosis achieves hard-won resolution.

Reflective miniatures by Koechlin, Honegger and Saint-Saëns are highly coloured by their composer’s individual voices, and there is space for the heartfelt Adagio of Guillaume Lekeu, which belongs in the company of Mahler’s Adagietto and Barber’s ubiquitous Adagio.

This recording marks the CD debut of the Ciconia Consort, a Dutch string orchestra conducted by Dick van Gasteren, an internationally active conductor, who was Bernard Haitink’s assistant during the Mahler Festival Amsterdam in 1995.

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Charles Koechlin 1867-1950
1. Sur les flots lointains poème symphonique sur un chant de C.M. Urner Op.130 (1933)

Guillaume Lekeu 1870-1894
2. Adagio pour cordes (1891)

Arthur Honegger 1892-1955
3. Hymne pour dixtuor à cordes (1920)

Jaques Castérède 1926-2014
Symphonie No.1 pour orchestre à cordes (1952)
4. Modéré
5. Vif et rude
6. Lent
7. Vif et décidé

Camille Saint-Saëns 1835-1921
8. Sarabande in E Op.93 (1892)
Solo violin Emmy Storms

Arthur Honegger 1892-1955
Symphonie No.2 pour cordes avec trompette ad libitum (1941)
9. Molto moderato – Allegro
10. Adagio mesto
11. Vivace non troppo