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

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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Prelude, Fugue and Variation (arr. Bauer)
Pastorale (arr. Bauer)
Sonata in A (arr. Cortot)
Alexander Paley (piano)
Rec 1-4 July 1994, Fisher Hall, Santa Rosa, California
MARCO POLO 8.225044 [73.23]


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The Marco label is noted for its enterprise, time and again causing music lovers to reassess their awareness of the repertoire and to consider new angles on familiar composers, or unknown figures from the past. This disc of piano music by César Franck (or César Franck plus a little help from his friends) comes firmly in the first category. Recorded back in 1994, it enters wide circulation only in 2002.

Only one of the four (piano) pieces featured here was originally written for the piano. Franck wrote for the instrument in a masterly way, often using complex, even dense, textures to create a supreme richness of sound. Alexander Paley has a good feel for this style, and his performance of the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue is a convincing one, necessarily aided by the quality of the recorded sound. This is not spectacular but it is wholly truthful, amid an atmospheric acoustic.

The other three items are arrangements. Two of Franck's organ compositions, the Prelude, Fugue and Variation and the two-movement Pastorale, are heard in arrangements by Harold Bauer (1873-1951). They work well enough, and only those who know and love the originals really well are likely to be disappointed by these piano versions. Again Paley is a reliable pianist, though here in the remaining work, Alfred Cortot's transcription of the great Violin Sonata, I feel he somewhat understates the emotional case.

The Violin Sonata is a very well known piece, of course, to the extent that the majority of people listening to this CD will miss the presence of the violin. As a master (perhaps even legendary) pianist, Cortot makes light of the task of transcribing the music for piano solo, but the results are more satisfying in the turbulent, densely textured passages than in the more simply phrased first movement, Allegro ben moderato. Perhaps Paley's avoidance of indulgent emotion contributes to the under-selling of the music, perhaps one feels the lack of the duo combination. Whatever the caveats involved, Franck's music is served adequately enough by all concerned: the artist, the engineers, the arrangers. That one would want these versions rather than the originals is unlikely, however. This disc is therefore targeted at enthusiasts, and as such it makes an interesting project.

Terry Barfoot

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