The conductor Christopher Fifield, who is also a noted writer
about music - and a contributor to MusicWeb International - has
already been responsible for bringing a number of neglected works
into the catalogue, including his fine recording of the Symphony
No 1 by Frederick Cliffe (see review).
Now he gives us a welcome selection of orchestral music by Richard
Franck, a composer whose name and music were hitherto unknown
As Franck’s name
may be unfamiliar to others, perhaps a little biographical
detail will be helpful. For this I draw on the very useful
booklet note by Paul Feuchte. Franck was born in Cologne.
His father, Eduard Franck (1817-1893) was a well-known composer,
pianist and teacher. His mother, Tony Thiedemann, was a pianist.
They met through friendship with the Mendelssohns; Eduard
was a friend of Felix Mendelssohn and Tony was a member of
the circle of Felix’s sister, Fanny. Richard Franck studied
philosophy at Leipzig University but at the same time pursued
musical studies at the city’s conservatoire, the director
of which at that time was Carl Reinecke (1824-1910), a lasting
influence on young Franck. Later Franck spent the best part
of twenty years on the staff of the German music school in
Basel, until 1900. He then moved back to Germany, to Kassel,
where he carved out quite a career for himself as a performer
and conductor. Unfortunately his health began to deteriorate
and in 1910 he retreated to Heidelberg, where he followed
a less hectic schedule of performing and teaching, living
there until his death in 1938.
His mature composition
career spans the period from around 1880 until his death,
though after 1910 his creative activity was sporadic. It seems
that his style was pretty conservative, influenced by Reinecke
and by his friend, the Swiss composer Hans Huber (1852-1921)
and that’s certainly the impression conveyed by the contents
of this CD. On this evidence Franck was firmly in the tradition
of Mendelssohn and Schumann – and none the worse for that
– though it’s clear that he was not immune from the influence
of Wagner also. The music on this disc is uniformly pleasing,
though it breaks no new ground and doesn’t storm the emotional
heights, and the craftsmanship sounds to be tasteful and of
a high order.
It’s also suggested
in the notes that Franck had difficulty escaping the shadow
of his father. Several of Eduard Franck’s pieces have been
recorded and Rob Barnett’s review
of this present disc includes links to reviews on Music Web
International of some of those CDs and to a disc of chamber
music by Richard himself. So far as I know, that disc has
been the sole representation of his output in the catalogue
There is one work
on this disc that, with sufficient exposure, might establish
some degree of modern reputation for Franck. The Serenade
for Violin and Orchestra may not be technically the finest
work in the collection – I’ll leave that to others to debate
– but it’s a real charmer despite its modest dimensions. The
music is predominantly broad, lyrical and easeful. The soloist
has an enviable line, which is spun beautifully by Fabian
Wettstein, who is also the konzertmeister of the orchestra.
He’s aided by sensitive support from his colleagues. Christopher
Fifield rightly mentions Max Bruch as a comparator. This wholly
engaging piece could have been the slow movement to a concerto
though it is, in fact. an independent composition.
the Serenade for Cello and Orchestra is, I suspect,
pretty contemporaneous to judge by the opus number – one regrettable
omission from the documentation is any information as to the
dates of composition of the various works. This is also a
very appealing piece but it’s somewhat darker hued, perhaps
fittingly, given the choice of solo instrument. The soloist
here is the orchestra’s principal cellist and he’s another
fine and sympathetic player.
The Suite for
Orchestra is cast in four movements. The first and third
movements are light and easy going while the second, as Mr
Fifield observes, has some kinship with Brahms in Hungarian
Dance mood. The finale, which is lively and enjoyable, is
the most substantial of the movements.
- Amor und Psyche is a bigger piece in conception.
It opens with a soulful unaccompanied cello solo – and there’s
a second such passage a little later on. This work is very
definitely in the mould of late nineteenth century German
romantic music and in it Franck deploys the richest orchestral
palette so far encountered on the disc. Though unashamedly
romantic it’s not a hothouse piece: note, for example, the
engaging section in compound time between 5:46 and 6:41, which
has a fine lilt to it. This may not be a masterpiece but it’s
a very pleasing piece to hear.
The last piece
on the programme, Wellen des Meeres und der Liebe (‘Waves
of the Sea and of Love’) was premièred in Lucerne in 1895
under the direction of Mengelberg, no less. It’s an enjoyable
work if not, in the last analysis, especially memorable. I
don’t know if there’s a programme of any kind behind the music.
That last comment
highlights the one shortcoming in an otherwise excellently
produced release. There are booklet essays in German and in
English by the same author, but not identical I content. The
English essay contains a good deal of biographical information
– very necessary – but insufficient information about and
commentary on the music itself. That’s a regrettable omission
since the music will be new to most listeners, I imagine.
My knowledge of German is only rudimentary but so far as I
can tell the same comment applies to the German note.
the only criticism I have of this issue. The sound is very
good and so far as I can judge – this is unfamiliar music
and I have seen no scores – the orchestra plays very well
and with enthusiasm: certainly the sound they produce is very
pleasing. Christopher Fifield conducts with refinement and
evident enthusiasm for the music.
have been unearthed here. On the evidence of this CD Richard
Franck was a conservative and fairly minor composer but he
was not a negligible composer and his music is enjoyable,
skilful and attractive. Enthusiasts for music of this style
and period will certainly want to hear it and so should other
collectors with an enquiring ear.
by Rob Barnett