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Gouvy: Requiem, Cantate Le Printemps / Jacques Houtmann

Release Date: 10/1994 
Label:  K 617   Catalog #: 617046   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Louis Théodore Gouvy
Performer:  Manfred HemmGérard GarinoElsa MaurusSheri Greenawald
Conductor:  Jacques Houtmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lorraine Philharmonic OrchestraSchola de Vienne ChorusHombourg-Haut Men's Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Théodore Gouvy (1819-98), a name only subliminally familiar to me in a lifetime of peregrinations through Western classical music, was a French composer more honored in Germany than in France. Berlioz, writing in the Journal des débats in 1851, after Gouvy had conducted a poorly attended concert of his own music (a concert financed at his own expense), chided the public in these words (translated by me from the French portion of this album's booklet): “That a musician of the importance of Mr. Gouvy should still be so little known in Paris, while gnats importune the public with their obstinate buzzing, is enough to confound and enrage those naive souls who still believe in reason and justice in matters of musical morality.“ Read more Berlioz, sixteen years older than Gouvy, must have seen the parallels in their careers: both of them frequently paid out of their own pockets when they conducted their music in Paris, and both of them were snubbed by their countrymen and welcomed when they toured Germany, where their programs were well attended and their scores accepted by German publishers.

Gouvy, unlike the frequently impoverished Berlioz, could afford underwriting his musical ventures. He came from a very prosperous iron-and-steel manufacturing family in Lorraine, who allowed him (reluctantly at first) to pursue a musical career when he dropped out of law school (again, a Berlioz parallel). At the time of Gouvy's birth, his section of Lorraine, near Saarbrücken, had been briefly annexed by Germany following Napoleon's defeat. Though it was soon restored to France, Gouvy (unlike his older brothers) was considered technically a German and thus not eligible for admission to the Paris Conservatoire. Instead he frequented the salon of Adolphe Adam and studied privately with El wart (theory) and Zimmermann (piano). Later he spent a year in Berlin under the tutelage of Rungenhagen. (I draw this information from The New Grove. K617, as usual, produces an ambitious booklet with this release, but it is mainly taken up with civic bombast from local politicians of the Lorraine district, and irrelevant information about the Gouvy family of ironmongers. The only viable section is a long and rather snooty essay on Gouvy by the veteran musicologist Harry Halbreich, who pursues key relationships in Gouvy's Requiem with dogged persistence, when he is not taking the composer to task for some imagined slight against Latin prosody.) Thereafter Germany was frequently Gouvy's home and he died in Leipzig. But in later years he returned to the family manse in the Lorraine village of Hombourg Haut, where, among other musical activities, he founded a male chorus made up of local coal miners—a chorus not only still extant but performing impressively in the cantata Le Printemps, heard at the conclusion of this recording. One further word about the firm of Gouvy, Ironmasters: it is still operating and a well-known name in France, though it passed out of the family's ownership long ago.

Théodore Gouvy was a very prolific composer. Only a portion of his more than 300 works was published, however. The remainder is still in manuscript, tenderly preserved by local archives in Lorraine. He wrote seven symphonies, overtures, and other orchestral music; large choral works on classical Greek subjects (New Grove calls them cantatas; Harry Halbreich calls them oratorios); a considerable volume of chamber music in various forms; piano music and songs; and two operas, neither of which has ever been produced (although Dresden accepted Le Cid for production in 1863, before backing out of its commitment). Among his sacred music are a Stabat Mater, a Missa brevis, and a sacred cantata, Golgotha.

But the major item in this category is his Requiem, composed in 1874, the same year as Verdi's Requiem, with which it shares certain features. The Requiem of Berlioz must have exercised some influence on Gouvy's work as well, although he professed some distaste for Berlioz's music, along with that of Wagner. He liked to think of himself as a follower of Mendelssohn, though there is not the remotest trace of Mendelssohn in his Requiem, the work that K617 has exhumed for this recording. With a deadline looming and the review copy late to arrive, I do not have the time to expatiate at length about this work, but I want at least to express my pleasure with a first hearing of it. It impresses me far more than some of the Requiems by Gouvy's better-known contemporaries—such, for instance, as Saint-Saëns and Gounod. It really is a deeply felt work, lavish in melodic ideas (even if Halbreich finds too many of them based on symmetrical, eight-bar patterns), and orchestrated with the sure hand of a master. Of all my assignments for this issue of Fanfare, it is Gouvy's Requiem that I am most eager to return to, without the pressure of a deadline. Is it indeed as moving and distinguished a composition as it seems at first hearing?

The fact that it is handsomely performed here, with four excellent vocal soloists (led by the American soprano Sheri Greenawald), one of the best-disciplined of France's regional orchestras, and a large, well-rehearsed chorus, doesn't hurt my favorable impression.

Though the Requiem, at slightly better than an hour's length, makes a perfectly respectable compact disc of itself, it is here supplemented by a sixteen-minute-long cantata by Gouvy, sung in French as Le Printemps (Breitkopf and Härtel of Leipzig published it with a German alternative text as Frühlings Erwachen). It is scored for solo soprano (Sheri Greenawald again), male chorus (the coal miners from Hombourg-Haut), and orchestra. It is an eloquent tribute to the arrival of spring, alternately recalling Berlioz, Gounod, and Brahms (the Alto Rhapsody).

This long-buried, conflicted composer (he dedicated his Requiem to the memory of his mother, with whom he had what sounds to have been an Oedipal relationship; he never married) may well be the neglected Romantic master that France needs to revive, as Germany has been plentifully reviving its own forgotten Romantics. I'd dearly like to hear some of Gouvy's symphonies and string quartets. And while I'm asking, what about bringing Le Cid and one of those Greek cantata-oratorios to life? By the evidence of this imposing Requiem, Théodore Gouvy warrants a second act.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [3/1995]
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Works on This Recording

Requiem, Op. 70 by Louis Théodore Gouvy
Performer:  Manfred Hemm (Bass), Gérard Garino (Tenor), Elsa Maurus (Mezzo Soprano),
Sheri Greenawald (Soprano)
Conductor:  Jacques Houtmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lorraine Philharmonic Orchestra,  Schola de Vienne Chorus,  Hombourg-Haut Men's Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874 
Date of Recording: 06/1994 
Venue:  La Salle Institution, Metz 
Length: 61 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Language: Latin 
Frühlings Erwachen by Louis Théodore Gouvy
Performer:  Manfred Hemm (Bass), Gérard Garino (Tenor), Elsa Maurus (Mezzo Soprano),
Sheri Greenawald (Soprano)
Conductor:  Jacques Houtmann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Lorraine Philharmonic Orchestra,  Schola de Vienne Chorus,  Hombourg-Haut Men's Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1882 
Date of Recording: 06/1994 
Venue:  La Salle Institution, Metz 
Length: 16 Minutes 8 Secs. 

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