REVIEW: SummerFest’s Glowing Concert of French Music from Gounod to Ravel

San Diego Story
Ken Herman
August 23, 2018

The French Revolution did French music no favors. In the decades of political and social turmoil that followed the Revolution, music in the land of “liberté, fraternité et égalité” languished. At the same time in German-speaking principalities, however, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn birthed that rich musical movement we call Romanticism.

While the symphonic works of Hector Berlioz brought France into the orchestral big leagues mid-century, it was not until the later years of the 19th century that French composers took composing chamber music seriously. Tuesday’s (August 21) SummerFest concert presented a beautifully played program that captured that late Romantic flowering of French chamber music as it progressed to the edge of 20th-century modernism.

Charles Gounod’s “Little Symphony” for Wind Nonet, Op. 216, strikingly recasts the symphonic form of the Classical era into a perfectly structured four-movement chamber work that might be easily be dismissed as academic, were it not for Gounod’s endlessly charming motivic invention. In truth, I would choose hearing Gounod’s delectable “Little Symphony” over any of the 104-plus Haydn orchestral symphonies for the same reason I would choose a slice of Black Forest cake over a kale salad.