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Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
The music for solo piano, duo and duet
Martin Jones with *Richard McMahon, +Adrian Farmer (pianos)
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 14-15 February+, 22 June*, 31 October, 1, 14-15 November 2011
NIMBUS NI 5880 [3 CDs: 59:23 + 64:48 + 66:54]

Experience Classicsonline

CD 1
Scherzo [2:16]
Cinq portraits de jeunes filles (1936) [12:56]
Eloge de la danse (Six épigraphes de Paul Valéry) (1947) [11:22]
Sonate pour piano (1960) [9:29]
Cinq “Bis” (1955) [9:35]
Danse des Trois Arlequins (1959) [1:57]
Huit Variations sur le nom de Johannes Gutenberg (1982) [7:30]
Nocturne (1994) [4:23]
Martin Jones (piano)*
CD 2
Huit danses exotiques pour deux pianos (1957) [10:36]
Martin Jones and Richard McMahon (pianos)
15 portraits d’enfants d’Auguste Renoir (1972) [14:19]
Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer (piano)
Trois esquisses sur les touches blanches (posth) [4:37]
La Promenade d’un Musicologue Eclectique (1987) [18:43]
“De la Musique avant tout chose” (1975) [8:46]
Pour Jacqueline (1922) [7:27]
CD 3
Si Versailles m’était conté... (Suite pour Piano) (1953) [15:43]
Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer (piano) on part IX: Le Hameau (a 4 mains)
Napoléon (Suite pour Piano a 4 mains) (1954) [26:39]
Martin Jones and Adrian Farmer (piano)
Scuola di Ballo sur les themes de Boccherini (1933 arr. 1966) [24:26]

I think it was Jean Françaix who first made me realise that music could be funny and make you laugh as much as it can elicit other reactions and emotions. It helped me appreciate other musical “jokes” such as the ‘Surprise’ symphony of Haydn among others. The music on this three CD set spans virtually his entire composing life from 1922 to 1987. It is light-hearted, has a humorous edge to it and never takes itself too seriously. That doesn’t that mean it deserves to be dismissed as ‘salon’ music or even ‘light music’ in the accepted sense since, while it may be described as ‘light’, it can never be thought of as ‘lightweight’. There seems to be a French tradition for this approach which would help explain the music of Françaix as much as it does that of Satie, Mihaud and Poulenc. The pieces are all delightful, full of wit and charm and subject to elegant treatment by a composer who made the piano his prime instrument of choice to showcase his compositional skills.
A pupil of Nadia Boulanger, that brilliant nurturer of talent, Jean René Désiré Françaix was born in Le Mans on 23 May 1912 to musical parents, a composer and pianist father and a mother who taught singing. A child of prodigious talent is at evidence here in Pour Jacqueline on disc two, written when he was only 10 years old! The effervescent nature of his piano writing is highly infectious and for some it showed shallowness and a lack of profundity. They obviously can’t appreciate its endlessly inventive character. Others criticised the fact that for them he “never progressed”. If he found a way of self-expression that suited him why would he want to force himself to find other ways. In any event he did in fact write several works that showed his depth of feelings about the human condition. In his masterwork L’Apocalypse de St Jean, written in 1939 and once recorded by Wergo, the year World War II began, this is very evident. He was a brilliant arranger and orchestrated works by Chopin, Chabrier, Schubert and Mozart. Indeed even Poulenc asked him to orchestrate his composition L’histoire de Babar for him. This 3 CD collection of all his solo, duo and duet works is a valuable resource for any of his many admirers and for those coming to his music for the first time. The only observation other than that is that despite my enthusiasm for his music I am forced to admit that a little goes a long way. After half an hour or so I look for something more satisfying to the soul. Martin Jones and his accompanying colleagues also obviously have a high regard for his music and that comes out in sparklingly brilliant performances.
Steve Arloff

see also review by Paul Godfrey


































































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