The most brilliant of Belgian composer César Franck's compositions were written during the final decade of his life; the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, the famous Violin Sonata, the D major String Quartet, and, perhaps most important, the Symphony in D minor are all the products of a single, remarkable five-year period. The Symphony, by no means an immediate success with critics or audiences, has nevertheless become so fused with the popular image of César Franck that it is nearly impossible to think of him without also thinking of this 40-minute orchestral juggernaut.
Franck’s Piano Quintet and Debussy’s String Quartet make an apt and unusual coupling, each work its composer’s only, unsurpassable, contribution to the genre. Both receive authoritative performances from Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács Quartet.
Violinist Arabella Steinbacher and pianist Robert Kulek continue their great collaboration with a new PENTATONE release, the recording of Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in A, which joins Richard Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat, Op. 18. While Franck’s violin sonata is epic in character, Strauss’ work is full of jovial energy, hope and anticipation. This fusion of elements brilliantly demonstrates the synergy between Steinbacher and Kulek, something we have witnessed during their recital performances over the past few years.
Cesar Franck's passionate and sunny Violin Sonata has long been regarded as one of the greatest in the repertoire, and is the work of a composer at the height of his powers. Richard Strauss's Violin Sonata, composed a year after Franck's in 1887, is the work of a young composer on the cusp of discovering his mature voice; lyrical and sumptuous, it has all the hallmarks of his later style. Performed here by distinguished violinist and conductor Augustin Dumay and French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, this recording marks the duo's recording debut. In addition to the sonatas, this album includes two Franck rarities - Melancolie and the Prelude, Fugue and Variation Op.18 for organ, heard here in an arrangement by Dumay and Lortie. The recording concludes with the wonderful Heifetz arrangement of Strauss's song Auf stillem Waldespfad.
Unusually the liner note deserves a mention ahead of the music: the fine pianist Jeremy Denk, half of this regular duo, manages to encapsulate the elusiveness of French romantic music with such insight in a few sharp sentences, his words almost shape the way we listen to this superbly played disc. Saint-Saëns' wistful and emotional Sonata No 1 and Ravel's bluesy, ironic sonata have a whipped, airy quality. Joshua Bell plays with fire and finesse, with Denk a powerful ally. Franck's dark-light violin sonata, mysterious, ardent and far more than the sum of its parts when played as majestically as here, forms the centrepiece of this seriously beguiling disc.
This CD features two quite lovely piano quintets, beautifully played by a quartet of players from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with Clifford Curzon at the piano. The first piece is by Antonin Dvorak, who composed two piano quintets. The first of these is a relatively early work that Dvorak composed in 1872 when he was 31. The second of his quintets was composed only 15 years later and remains one of his most popular chamber works. The other piece on the CD is by César Franck and, along with his other major chamber works - the violin sonata and the string quartet - reminds the listener of the atmosphere of Franck's best known work, the symphony in d minor.
The violin and piano sonatas of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel draw on foreign idioms: gypsy music in Debussy's case and African-American blues in Ravel's. But they remain completely French works, spiced with something exotic, and British violinist Jennifer Pike forges interpretations that keep this in mind. Start with the "Blues" slow movement of the Ravel Violin Sonata in G major: Pike and her accompanist, Martin Roscoe, avoid exaggerating the bluesy qualities of the music and instead emphasize the odd, almost tense disconnection between violin and piano that, combined with the languid blues melodies, gives this piece its special piquancy.
Arthur Rubinstein had performed Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 many times throughout his concert career; in fact, this was one of the pieces on the program of his first public concert given in 1900. The style in which he plays it is simply captivating. It's not a serious concerto in the German-school, but rather a light-hearted and somewhat amusing concerto. This is probably the most famous recording of the composition, and it's no wonder why. The Symphonic Variations of Cesar Franck are fantastic, full of energy, vitality and French-Romantic beauty.