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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



César FRANCK
‡ Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra*
‡ Symphonic Poem Les Djinns (op 54)*
‡‡ Piano Concerto no 2 in B minor †
* François-Joël Thiollier (piano), † Martijn van den Hoek (piano) with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra/Roberto Benzi
‡ Recorded in the Musis Sacrum, Arnhem (June 1995); ‡‡ same location (July 1997)
NAXOS 8.553472 [58:58]

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One is never too old to learn! I thought I was pretty familiar with the compositions of César Franck but I have to confess I was not aware until now that he composed any piano concertos (and the first two reference books to which I turned make no mention of them). I was even more surprised to learn that he wrote this second concerto at the age of 13 (his first concerto is presumably lost) and that it is listed as his opus 11.

The piece certainly has curiosity value. The writing for both piano and orchestra is fluent and assured. The virtuosic piano part is clear evidence that, as a pianist at any rate, Franck was an infant prodigy. It is in a somewhat nondescript style which contains echoes of, amongst others, Chopin, Clementi and Schubert. There are three conventional movements – an allegro maestoso, an adagio and a rondo finale. Despite its limited thematic content and harmonic development and some clumsy orchestration – particularly notable in the overlong, repetitive first movement – the work has undeniable charm. It bears no resemblance to Franck’s mature work except, perhaps, in one respect. One of the books I read as a teenager and which made a lasting impression is Cecil Gray’s The History of Music (1928). Gray was somewhat dismissive of Franck, but I think he had a point when he claimed that all the composer’s themes tended to hover around one note – a tendency already apparent in this concerto.

However, filled out with thoroughly attractive accounts of the Symphonic Variations and Les Djinns, this disc is certainly worth a fiver or so

.
Adrian Smith



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