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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
The Great Organ Works
CD 1
'Trois Pièces' (1878):
Fantaisie in A [14:57]
Cantabile [6:55]
Pièce Heroique [9:31]
'Trois Chorales' (1890):
Chorale No. 1 in E major [16:18]
Chorale No. 2 in B minor [15:39]
Chorale No. 3 in A minor [15:09]
CD 2
From 'Six Pièces' (1860-63):
Grande Pièce Symphonique, Op. 17 [29:04]
Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18 [10:47]
Pastorale, Op. 19 [9:34]
Prière, Op. 20 [14:01]
Final, Op. 21 [12:32]
CD 3
Pièce en mi bémol (1846) [11:00]
Andantino en sol mineur (1857) [6:50]
Pièce en la majeur (1854) [12:52]
Offertoire en sol mineur (1859) [8:23]
Andantino en la bémol majeur (1860) [4:19]
Offertoire en si majeur (1866) [5:35]
Offertoire en ut mineur (1885) [3:33]
Petite Pièce d'Entrée pour Concours (1877) [3:12]
Fantaisie in C major, Op. 16 from the 'Six Pièces' (1863) [13:41]
Roberto Antonello (organ)
rec: Oct 2002 (CD1);  Oct 2003 (CD2); Oct 2004 (CD3), Parish Church of Salgareda, Treviso, Italy. DDD
FAGOTT F-3906-4 [3 CDs: 78:33 + 76:00 + 69:30]
Experience Classicsonline

The organ used here was constructed by Andrea Zeni of Tesero in 1999 to commemorate the centenary of the death of the great French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899). It seems that the Zeni organ at Salgareda was inspired by the work of Cavaillé-Coll a sound with which the music of Franck is inextricably linked.
Apart from the three sets being grouped together I cannot discern any specific order in this sequence. The Fantaisie in C major, Op. 16, the first of the set of Six Pièces, is placed away from the other five of the set on CD3 together with other miscellaneous works.
Franck was a Belgian, born in Liège, who studied at the Paris Conservatoire. He was to live out the majority of his life in Paris, becoming organ professor at the Conservatoire.
A high regard is given to Franck’s organ music by musicologist David Ewen in his The Complete Book of Classical Music, David Ewen, publ: Robert Hale, London, (1978). Pg. 641: “The organ had become a neglected stepchild of French music in the ninetieth century. It was restored to its one time status by Franck. A remarkable organist himself, whose improvisations were legendary.”
The first set of works on the disc are the Trois Pièces from 1878. Franck wrote these for the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Palais du Trocadéro, in Paris. In the Fantasie in A one detects varying moods, especially the long peaceful section, although the themes remain rather cloudy and undeveloped. The attractive Cantabile is kept mainly within a limited range of the instrument and the popular Pièce Héroïque reveals Franck’s ability to move easily from chamber music delicacy to his symphonic weight.
In 1890 Franck wrote his Trois Chorales shortly after he was hit by a vehicle in Paris, an accident from which he subsequently died. There is glorious writing in the Chorale No. 1 - poignant with a comforting underlying strength. In the Chorale No. 2 one immediately notices the sad and brooding theme in the bass that Franck subjects to a number of variations. Symphonic in feel, the Chorale No. 3 makes an immediate impact, especially the Toccata-like opening. The gentle central section provides a sense of comfort and security and the finale is a triumphant restatement of the main theme.
Disc two comprises five of the set of Six Pièces. Early in 1858 Franck was appointed as organist for the newly-constructed instrument at Sainte-Clotilde. Here Franck was in charge of a magnificent organ; one of the greatest achievements of Cavaillé-Coll. He soon made a reputation for himself and admirers came from afar to hear his playing. Around 1860-63 he started to publish some works that included the Six Pièces. Liszt proclaimed the set worthy of a, “place alongside the masterpieces of Johann Sebastian Bach.”
At 29 minutes in duration the Grande Pièce Symphonique, Op. 17 is a mighty work of large proportions. Often described as a ‘symphony for organ’ it is not difficult to see comparisons with Franck’s Symphony in D minor. The slow central section is remarkably serene in quality, especially the tender episode at 18:32-20:54 and the development to the conclusion of the score is most dramatic. Containing beautiful music of a special quality the Prélude, Fugue et Variation, Op. 18 has an uplifting character. I found the main theme to be particularly memorable. In the Pastoral, Op. 19 Franck lays out a brilliant palette of colours whilst maintaining an unhurried nature. I experienced the Prière, Op. 20 as a rather dense and uninviting work somewhat lacking in variety when compared to the unrestrained joyfulness of the Final, Op. 21.
The third disc, with the exception of the Fantaisie in C major, Op. 16 from the Six Pièces, consists of eight miscellaneous organ pieces that span the period 1845-85.  The Pièce en mi bémol (1846) is an early score, largely unchallenging, with a quiet middle section. Immediately attractive, the Andantino en sol mineur (1857) is a melodic and highly memorable score and in the Pièce en la majeur (1854) I was struck by the gossamer quality of the unhurried central section. The three works the Offertoire en sol mineur (1859); the Andantino en la bémol majeur (1860) and the Offertoire en si majeur (1866) came across as lifeless and rather monotonous. I enjoyed the grief-laden Offertoire en ut mineur (1885) a work that drew me right to its heart to experience its complex harmonies. By contrast the Petite Pièce d'Entrée pour Concours (1877) is light and carefree. The first of the set of Six Pièces the Fantaisie en ut majeur, Op. 16 (1863) proved to be a generally uneventful score for its 11 minutes duration.
Organist Roberto Antonello seems admirably suited to this Romantic repertoire. The pleasing timbre and the warm coloured palette of the Zeni organ at Salgareda is an added bonus. The soloist’s interpretations are generally restrained with a rather cool precision. This is straightforward and unadorned playing with an approach that at times felt measured - maybe bordering on the ponderous. The sound engineers have provided a decent focus for the organ and the booklet notes are adequate.   
Michael Cookson


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