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Eduard FRANCK (1817-1893)
Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 13 (1846) [40:42]
Piano Concerto No 2 in C major (1879) [34:08]
Georg Michael Grau (piano)
Württembergische Philharmonie/Fawzi Haimor
rec. 2018, Studio der Württembergischen Philharmonie, Reutlingen
CPO 555 320-2 [74:57]

Breslau-born Eduard Franck moved in exalted circles: Mendelssohn (his teacher), Schumann and Sterndale Bennett were friends. The wealth and artistic inclinations of his family must surely have helped; contrast Schumann’s circumstances. My knowledge of Eduard Franck first found its footing with a clutch of Audite discs about ten years ago. I am now pleased that CPO have enabled me to reopen that door.

The Piano Concerto in D minor was Franck's first ambitious work with orchestra. It runs to three movements and to forty minutes. From a propitious drum-roll and flamboyant flourish we get a pre-echo of the Grieg concerto which at the time lay twenty years in the future. This Franck meant business even if he occasionally luxuriates in a steady-as-she-goes pulse and leans on the received gestures of the times. When the work was completed he was only thirty. The warmly accomplished and musing slow movement - an Andantino - seems to have been partly written under the knowledge of the slow movement of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’. It never becomes mawkish. The striding and flashing finale begins with a recollection of the start of the work. It settles into some Chopin-like introspection and romance which I suspect held the greatest glamour for Franck, but he still builds a convincing final statement. There’s certainly contrasting steam, stamina and cantering dignity in the mix. The First Concerto was probably premiered with the composer as pianist in Berlin in 1846.

The Second Concerto seems not to have had an opus number assigned to it. It has survived in the form of a piano reduction and manuscript from which what we hear has been extrapolated. The work again spans three movements across what is six minutes shorter than the First Concerto. It’s occasionally gritty with a stormy Beethovenian (‘Eroica’-style) tension previously only hinted at. The Intermezzo: Adagio is most beautifully written and shaped and Grau quietly voices the very tenderness invited by the orchestra. No-one blinks throughout the movement’s ten minutes such is the concentration of everyone involved. The Presto gallops neatly in a way that recalls Mendelssohn - romantic but in full flood - and the more demonstrative moments touch on the concertos by Litolff and Tchaikovsky.

The supporting notes are in German and English. They are by Dr Andreas Feuchte and pianist Georg Michael Grau. Grau, together with the orchestra and conductor, seems fully in sympathy with this music and makes it sing and sparkle.

Rob Barnett

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