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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Rédemptiona (1871-2) [13:50]; Nocturneb (1884, orch. Ropartz) [4:01]; Le Chasseur mauditc (1882) [16:20]; Psychéa (1888) [26:28]; Les Éolidesd (1876) [10:45].
bChrista Ludwig (mezzo);
abcOrchestre de Paris/Daniel Barenboim;
dL:Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet.
Rec. Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, aFeb, bcJune 1976, dVictoria Hall, Geneva, Jan 1967. ADD

Here is a splendid collection of major works by Franck. The generous playing time is but icing on the cake of a well-chosen collection. And its well-chosen from the point of view of who the performers are, too.

The Orchestre de Paris plays the music with both affection and dedication. Barenboim, not usually this reviewer's favourite conductor, paces the works well and ensures excellent balances throughout. The clear and spacious recording helps in this too.

Rédemption (subtitled 'Morceau symphonique') is actually an orchestral interlude in a large-scale oratorio of the same name. The recording, with its full dynamic range, is perfect for the mysterious opening, while at the other end of the scale the imposing brass sound is resplendent. The Wagnerian slant that can be heard in this music clearly appealed to Barenboim.

Perhaps the single gem of this disc is the Nocturne, a work that comes fully to life with soloist Christa Ludwig. The sensuous orchestration by the Franck pupil Guy Ropartz is appropriately fragrant. Ludwig sings with rapt intensity the disc is worth it for these four minutes alone.

Le Chasseur maudit ('The Accursed Huntsman') is given a wide-ranging performance. The horns evoke the huntsman of the title superbly. He is accursed because he ignores the pleas of the church and goes hunting on a Holy Day, resulting in eternal damnation more accurately, to being hunted himself by demons for all eternity. This is a 'Poème symphonique' in four movements, and Barenboim and his forces react to each with chameleon-like agility. Try the depth and sensitivity of the strings in the second movement, or the shifting, textures (again Wagnerian) of the third ('Molto lento'). The Wagner link comes to a head in the descending chromatic and harmonic progressions of the finale, a movement Barenboim whips up into a frenzy of excitement.

Another 'Poème symphonique,' Psyché, takes us to the realms of myth - the titular heroine was the lover of Eros. The work consists of a love-scene (the first movement), Psyché's flight (carried by the Zephyrs, the winds), a Garden of Love and finally 'Psyché et Eros'. The allusions to Tristan in the dream are subsumed in a mesh of delicacy with the strings reduce to a mere whisper at times. There is some gorgeous, hushed playing here. The whole work, whatever its dynamic climaxes, is enveloped in a tendresse that culminates in the Orchestre de Paris caressing Franck's score in the final movement. This is music that positively glows.

It came as a shock to realise the Barenboim recordings were taken down in 1976. The recording quality implies many years ahead of that date.

Finally, a trip down memory lane to the days of Ernest Ansermet and his Suisse Romande orchestra in Les Éolides. If Barenboim is superb - and he is - what word is left for Ansermet's consummate understanding of the Franckian idiom?. This is surely the Master Ansermet at his best. He seems intent at times to point to the score as a sort of Franckian equivalent to Debussy's elusive ballet of many years later, Jeux (1912-13). A good idea on Eloquence's part to save the best for last. Barenboim and his Parisians might not sound quite so compelling after this.

An excellent compilation of Franckian gems. Very, very strongly recommended indeed.

Colin Clarke

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