César Franck (1822-1890)
Les Éolides Op. 26 FWV 43 (1875-6)
Les Djinns Op. 45 FWV 45 (1884)
Rédemption interlude FWV 52 (1873)
Variations symphoniques FWV 46 (1886)
Le Chasseur maudit FWV 44 (1882)
Fabio Banegas (piano)
Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine/Francisco Varela
rec. 2021, Lviv National Philharmonic Hall, Lviv, Ukraine
GUILD GMCD7830 
Franck’s shorter orchestral works are both rewarding and beautiful and
do not deserve their comparative neglect. True, the two best-known,
the tone poems Les Éolides and Le Chasseur maudit,
turn up from time to time as fillers, but Les Djinns and the
Rédemption interlude are much rarer. As for collections of
all four, there were two in the days of vinyl LPs, by Jean Fournet and
André Cluytens, which were subsequently transferred to CD, but the original
recordings date from the 1960s and there has since been no similar collection
that I am aware of. So this issue would be very welcome even if it were
less good than it is, particularly since the longer playing time of
CDs means that the Variations symphoniques can be added to
the four other works.
We begin with Les Éolides. The title in English is The Aeolids,
daughters of Aeolus, keeper of the winds in Greek mythology. He kept
the winds in a bag and let them out as needed. The music itself represents
gusts and breezes, both lighter and more forceful, but in general it
is a gentle piece, which quite gives the lie to the idea that Franck’s
orchestral music is always forceful and Wagnerian. I particularly noted
the delicate playing and the prominent and distinctive timbres of the
woodwind, quite in the traditional French manner. There is also a lovely
long tune, of the kind one cannot have too much of.
Les Djinns is a real rarity. It is both a tone poem and a one
movement piano concertante piece, of a kind which used to be popular
– think of Weber’s Konzertstück or a number of early Chopin
works – but which have dropped out of today’s less miscellaneous concert
programmes. In Arabian folklore djinns are spiritual beings which can
be good or evil, corresponding to the daemons or middle spirits of European
folklore. Here the direct inspiration was a poem by Victor Hugo. The
piece is a real one movement concerto with some bravura writing for
the solo piano and powerful writing and an insistent rhythm which begins
and ends the work.
Rédemption in its original form was an oratorio in two parts
with this orchestral interlude in the middle. The original work is rarely
heard, though there are recordings by Jean Fournet and Michel Plasson.
The interlude, on the other hand, has taken on a separate life. After
some preliminaries, we settle down to a gentle theme on the strings
which has the quality of allowing repetition and development. There
is a contrasting processional on the brass and the whole piece is very
The Variations symphoniques are the best-known work here. They
were written for the pianist Louis Diémer, who had been the soloist
in the premiere of Les Djinns and who had asked for another
piano concertante work. As is well known, the variations are not clearly
distinguished from one another, and the fact that there are two main
themes rather than one is another source of confusion. Still, the work
is a beautiful one, justly popular; the lovely passage where the cellos
have the theme over rippling arpeggios in the piano comes across particularly
well, as does the skipping passage which immediately follows it.
Le Chasseur maudit depicts a huntsman who defies the church
to go hunting on a Sunday and is punished by being himself eternally
pursued by demons (definitely evil here, hence the different spelling).
The story comes from a ballad by the German poet Gottfried August Bürger,
who specialized in such things. We hear the huntsman’s horn calls and
the church bells and then the hunt gets on the way. Franck here sounds
quite like the Berlioz of the Symphonie Fantastique. There
is a curse, delivered by the trombones, which leads to a furious close.
All these are presented idiomatically and confidently by the Lviv National
Philharmonic orchestra under their Argentinian conductor Francisco Varela,
who clearly spotted a gap in the repertoire and has filled it very well.
The piano soloist in Les Djinns and the Variations
is Fabio Banega, another Argentinian, who has performed and recorded
all Franck’s works involving the piano. He also acquits himself well.
The recording is fine, the booklet helpful, and it only remains to note
that this disc was recorded shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine,
and that Guild records will be donating some of the profits to the DEC
appeal for that country. I am delighted that this is so, but the recording
stands on its own and needs no special pleading.