This is an intriguing release, mainly for the arrangement of César Franck’s wonderful Sonata for violin and piano as a piano trio. This is a work which exists in duo versions with flute and for cello, and it was a liking for certain passages in the latter setting which brought about the idea to combine the best of the original violin scoring with that for cello and develop the Sonata into a piano trio from there.
The booklet notes tell us that the piano part has remained pretty much the same as the original, so its colourful textures and virtuoso quality have been kept intact. At times the lines of violin and piano meet in unison, but there is enough independence for each part to make this into a convincing piano trio. In the interview-style booklet notes pianist Karl-Andreas Kolly admits that he considers the Franck Sonata as “the most original, most multifaceted and richest duo sonata” he knows. This is to my mind the only problem with such an arrangement. In working in this way on a piece which is an acknowledged masterpiece there is always the risk that the balance will be thrown off and that the whole thing will be dragged backwards somehow.
I believe this is for the most part avoided in the trio version as it stands as an arrangement, but my feeling is that any distinctive personality generated by a violin soloist is diffused by sharing with a ‘soloist no. 2’ in actual performance. This would be unfair on the cello if the same wasn’t true in reverse. Franck’s distinctive and powerfully expressive melodies don’t really take off and fly in the way they can in a good duo version, where freedom and flexibility – that creative spark between violinist and pianist – generate the greatest effect. Two’s company, three’s a crowd. There are of course marvellous things in this recording, but these more are down to the durability of Franck’s inspiration than anything else. The performance is very good, with only a very few mild blemishes in the string parts. My fear is that fans of the work in its original form won’t feel they’ve learned a great deal that is new, while at the same time missing out on that last nth of ecstasy which they know it can deliver. Perhaps this is a version which just needs a little more time to mature and take on its own personality – after all, the admission is made that “we also changed certain things even during the recording”, which suggests work in progress.
The Trois chorals pour orgue arrangement for piano on this recording isn’t the first ever made. A version with pianistic solutions for the problems with transcription by Blanche Selva existed before Karl-Andreas Kolly decided that a version closer to the organ original would be more satisfactory. The idea of taking these lovely pieces away from the organ and the church setting is a fair one and, played with sensitivity and musical insight as they are here they work well on the piano. There are some moments of inner tangling of lines which would have no doubt have been written differently had the original been for piano. Sections from 8:45 in the first of the three demonstrate this. The second Maestoso makes a superb piano piece and Kolly’s rich pedalling works well, giving the piano an orchestral sound without losing too much clarity. The final Quasi allegro is suitably dramatic, even the building and layering of notes so distinctive to the organ functioning very effectively on the piano.