César Franck's opus 1 is emulating the great Beethoven since his opus
1 is also a set of three piano trios. He also copied Beethoven's cyclic form
but Franck is no Beethoven since his music is too derivative and repetitive
although it can be very attractive. Neither does he exploit the instruments
and, as a consequence, his music is restricted in range. It also has the
distinct feel of salon music which music in its place is fine but
Piano Trio, like Sonata, String Quartet or
Symphony, indicates something more serious and mature.
His music lacks an original voice. At best in the F sharp minor Trio
we have the influence of Mendelssohn but it is not the same quality. Listen
to Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in D minor and note the sparkle, impeccable
craftsmanship and onward motion. Franck's other influence is Schubert and
he follows his expansive, repetitious and unadventurous style. That, in itself,
may not always be a bad thing but, to make another comparison, consider the
Piano Trio of Faure. That is not very adventurous either but its
gentleness is enhanced by its grace and charm and is half the length of the
Franck. The central allegro molto succeeds because of an excellent
choice of tempo and the whole piece is played most expertly. This movement
loses momentum in having two trio sections.
This is really his second piano trio and written when he was probably only
seventeen. But that fact pales into insignificance when one realises what
Mozart and Mendelssohn wrote before they entered their teenage years.
The real joy of this trio is the marvellous performance; the sound is sometimes
ravishing and the balance exemplary. The beautiful playing is so good that
I forgot how ordinary a work this is and many will love it!
The Violin Sonata dates from forty five years later and is very popular
with those who like 'tunes' that reappear, reappear, reappear and reappear.
Again, this is far from great music but the performance simply glows, as,
indeed, it does in the Piano Trio. I prefer the version for cello
and piano as recorded by David Finckel and Wu Han (Artist-led 19602-2) which
I reviewed for this web site. Nonetheless this mainly leisurely music, which
is so repetitive, becoming both bland and tedious. And isn't that famous
tune of the finale done to death?