Franck Symphonic Variations

Performances of piano masterpieces that are Franckly outstanding

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Franck Symphonic Variations

  • Prélude, choral et fugue
  • Symphonic Variations
  • Prélude, aria et final
  • (Les) Djinns
  • Prélude, fugue et variation

Don’t let the pouting profile of Bertrand Chamayou that adorns the cover of this disc deter you (why do so many artists like to be pictured as if they have just encountered a mephitic corpse?). This is an outstanding release in every way. In fact, I cannot recall another that included all Franck’s masterpieces for the piano on a single disc and in which, moreover, every performance goes straight to the top of recommended recordings. The two great solo works (Prélude, choral et fugue and Prélude, aria et final) are in the Cortot-Hough class – and that is saying something – with Chamayou combining their textual clarity, warm and affectionate expression, and luminous piano tone. These are separated by Les Djinns (1884), Franck’s woefully neglected symphonic poem for piano and orchestra, which follows the linear shape of Victor Hugo’s poem more closely than its narrative of threatening familiar sprites. The Scottish players offer magnificent support and, after its hushed close, Naïve sensitively leaves a long gap before the succeeding Prélude.

Rarely has the Variations symphoniques (1885) progressed so happily from its sepulchral opening to exuberant conclusion (hear how buoyantly Chamayou handles the opening of the final allegro non troppo section at 10'19"). Finally, the gentle Prélude, fugue et variation, originally for organ, heard not in the piano transcriptions by Harold Bauer, Ignaz Friedman or Otto Mortenson but by the composer himself – for harmonium and piano. The great Oliver Latry might be mistaken here for the stereotype of a French accordionist but the effect is hauntingly lovely. Good booklet in which, quite rightly, even the piano technicians are credited.

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