Great Music by a Great Composer
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 08/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cesar Franck (1822 -- 1890)was born in Belgium but spent most of his life in France. For much of his career, he was a church organist and professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory. He wrote music from an early age. His early works consist mostly of piano music or works for the organ. But he discovered himself as a composer only in the last decade or so of his life. During this period, he wrote in many musical genres (typically only a single work) and produced a small number of lasting masterpieces. His work is heavily influenced by late Beethoven, Liszt, and Wagner. It is late musical romanticism at, I think, its best.This 2-CD mid-priced set, "The Best of Cesar Frank" lives up to its name. It consists of many of the masterpieces of Franck's late years in a variety of forms. It is a convenient way to get much of Cesar Frank's music, well-played, in a single set. It includes a symphony, vocal music, organ music, music for piano and orchestra, and a work for solo piano by a variety of musicians. The CD will repay repeated hearings and give the listener a good exposure to Franck.The most famous work on this CD is Franck's "Symphony in D minor"
which was first performed in 1889 and presented here by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Van Otterloo. This is a fine performance of a much-beloved symphony. I found it emphasized the romantic, passionate character of the music with its frequent changes of tempo and mood.But other selections on this CD I enjoyed substantially more than the symphony. Franck's greates work is probably his violin sonata in A which dates from 1886. It receives an outstanding performance on this CD from violinist Arthur Gumiaux and pianist Istvan Hajdu. The violin sonata is in four movements, which develop aspects of the same underlying theme ("cyclic" composition, typical of Franck). The music is glorious, elevated and lyrical throughout, in contrast to most of Franck's music which emphasizes contrasts between serenity and passion. The first and third movements are slow and reflective while the second and fourth are faster. The climax of this work, its final movement, is intense, reflective, and joyous all at once. It is based upon the same theme that Beethoven used as his main theme in the finale of the cello sonata in A opus 69.
Frank's work (and Beethoven's cello sonata as well) is one of the high watermarks of chamber music literature.I also was much taken with the "Prelude, Choral and Fugue" for solo piano. This work dates from 1884 and it is performed here by pianist Eduardo Del Pueyo. This was my first exposure to this work, and I loved it. It consists of three movements which combine, to my ears, a romantic style, featuring long passages of broken chords and lyrical melodies, with baroque contrapuntal writing. I found this piece and the violin sonata the highlights of this fine collection.Franck wrote extensively for the organ and this CD features his "Piece Heroique" which lives up to its name together with two other late and deeper works, the Choral in B minor and the Cantabile in B that are much more intense and reflective in character. Listeners who are unfamiliar with organ music, or with organ music beyond Bach, may enjoy exploring this music.The CD also includes a lovely vocal piece "Panis angelicus" , Franck's "Variations Symphoniques" for piano and orchestra, and a Wagnerian tone poem "Les Etolides" all of which are well performed here and worth knowing.Franck is an inspiring figure to me in that he persevered, stayed within himself, and produced some undoubted musical masterworks near the close of a long life. This disc is a fine way to get to know his music.Listeners who wish to hear more of the best of Cesar Franck beyond the selections on this CD might enjoy his Piano Quintet in F Minor (1880) and his String Quartet in D Major (1890)."
5 Stars aren't enough!
Robin Friedman | 11/14/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Sonata for Piano and Violin is the most beautiful piece of music I have EVER heard. especially movements 1 & 4. The Symphony (Disc 2) is merely outstanding. Either of the pieces is well worth the entire price for the collection."