> César Franck - Piano Transcriptions [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (M.21) (1884)
Prelude, Fugue and Variations Op 18 (1860-62) transcribed Harold Bauer
Pastorale Op 19 (1860-62) transcribed Harold Bauer
Sonata for Violin and Piano (M.8) (1886) transcribed by Alfred Cortot
Alexander Paley, piano
Recorded Fisher Hall, Santa Rosa, California July 1994
MARCO POLO 8.225044 [73.23]


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I’m not sure why but this disc has been gathering dust on the Marco Polo shelves for eight years. Whatever the reason there is some arcanely intriguing repertoire here with master pianists Cortot and Bauer contributing their arrangements of Franck to a disc whose only original inspiration is the 1884 Prelude, Chorale and Fugue.

Maybe the problem was the sound, shallowly unattractive, or a piano less than ideally opulent in impress. Alexander Paley himself, as well, makes a variable impression. It’s perhaps unfair to judge him by the standard of one of the pianists, Cortot, whose arrangements he plays but in that Prelude, Chorale and Fugue he does emerge somewhat bruised by the encounter. He is very literal minded after Cortot, lacking flexibility, subtleties of rubato and gradations of colour in the Prelude. In the Chorale Paley’s phrasing can’t help but seem relatively pedestrian after Cortot, whose exhilarating ascents form moments of lyrical ecstasy unknown to Paley. Regrettably Paley’s ponderous plod is too rhythmically regular and it would be expecting too much to hope that he might follow Cortot’s extraordinary replication of organ sonority.

Bauer’s arrangement of the Op 18 Prelude, Fugue and Variation, perhaps because less well known goes rather better. This idiomatic piece receives a superficially convincing performance; the touching immediacy of the Prelude, the initially declamatory but ultimately tiny Lento (42 seconds), and the relative harmonic complexity of an animated Fuge and Variational finale. If it’s still somewhat under inflected and pallid there are compensations in thematic interest. The short Pastorale - another Bauer arrangement - features delicate pealing of bells in the Andantino and in the Quasi Allegretto second movement some active and rhythmically playful material before the return to the initial mood of somewhat sombre reflection. The final piece is Cortot’s transcription of the Violin Sonata. Paley is too slow in the opening movement for the thematic good of the transcribed material and there is lumpiness in his working out of the Allegro’s phrasing. He could have been more reflective and less stiff in the Allegretto – albeit that there are some highly impressive moments from him here – but there is muddiness and too much deliberation in the finale, which is reached via a rather careful and over circumspect route.

In view of the repertoire then a very cautious welcome for this disc, mostly instructive for the way in which two great pianists went about their particular tasks of transcription and the solutions – or quasi-solutions in the case of the Franck Sonata – which they reached.

Jonathan Woolf

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