debate on the value of EMI’s back catalogue is only at the beginning.
Any prospective purchaser looking down the list and noting recordings
of the Franck Symphony under Beecham, Bernstein, Cluytens, Giulini,
Karajan and Klemperer – just to spout a few that come immediately
to mind – is not going to see much added value here. Maybe in
the 2040s, or the 2060s if current copyright proposals have
their way, collectors will be posting the Plasson for downloading,
or whatever they will be doing in the post-digital age, not
as a great performance but as an example of “ordinary administration”
in the days when French orchestras sounded like French orchestras.
make no mistake, in the famous swimming-bath acoustics of the
Salle Wagram the Toulouse brass bray as on the old Paris Conservatoire
Orchestra LPs and the woodwind have a fruity vibrato. The strings
sound not so very numerous and their attack is not always immaculate,
but they are warm and committed. The brew isn’t as potent as
it was back in the 1950s but it’s a French brew all right. There
is a feeling that conductor and orchestra are all completely
at home in “their” music.
maybe they know it a bit too well and are tempted to
linger in the byways. The slow movement is well done but elsewhere
the tempo drops back all too often. The finale in particular
loses all sense of shape. Charles Munch
showed that it is possible to get away with a wide range of
speeds in this symphony if you keep the adrenalin running. I
learnt to love the work in Sir Adrian Boult’s recording,
one of his greatest records and possibly as authentic as it
is unusual, for he based his urgent tempi on a performance he
heard under Franck’s pupil Pierné. Much more recently Marek
Janowki presented a similar view
in state-of-the-art SACD sound and with the Suisse Romande Orchestra
still showing traces of the old French style, so my recommendation
would be that. Karajan showed that a more solemn view can be
made to work, his Teutonic vision somewhat tempered by the fact
that he is conducting the Orchestre de Paris.
is much lovely pianism from Collard in the Variations Symphoniques.
This rather gentle view culminates in an amiable final section
suggestive of a Sunday afternoon stroll in the Bois de Boulogne.
I rather liked it but I would always prefer something more dashing,
such as the well-remembered Curzon.
used to Cortot in the Prélude, choral et fugue are going
to find Collard hangs fire at the beginning, but taken on his
own terms it’s very beautiful playing. The Choral has all the
right fervour and the Fugue is kept moving. However, when the
Choral theme reappears towards the close, with Cortot we are
made to feel that we are at the beginning of a crescendo that’s
going to grow and grow right to the end of the piece. Collard
drifts of into a meditation of his own so the actual ending
then sounds unprepared.
Quatuor Muir essay a passionate, almost aggressive style in
contrast to the gentle Collard. They settle upon a working agreement
whereby the loud passages are feverishly upfront, the quiet
ones slower and somewhat laid-back. I found it rather unfocused.
lovely playing from both partners in the sonata. Dumay is too
closely recorded with the result that he dominates all too easily.
With all the keyboard activity that is going on the sense of
the piece should be that the violin is holding his own, but
only by a whisker. At times, too, Dumay and Collard are too
subtle for their own good. The last return of the canon theme
in the finale is wistful and poetic, but it makes for another
conclusion that is unprepared. Sometimes I wonder if this work
doesn’t yield better to enthusiastic performances by students
who have just got to master the notes, who feel they have all
the world before them and to whom the Franck violin sonata seems
the greatest music ever written.
many people carry their youthful aspirations and enthusiasms
intact into later life. Nobody playing on this disc convinces
me he has quite done so. One person who did was César Franck
himself, and his greatest interpreters are those who can rekindle
their youthful zeal through his music.
in all I fear this is not really the best way to get your basic
Franck. The excellent note by Roger Nichols rightly questions
the “Pater seraphicus” image of the composer, but it is a poor
match for a pair of records where most of the performers seem
to accept it.