The composer César Franck died 125 years ago this month, on 8 November, 1890. Born in Liège, Franck's nationality initially excluded him from the Paris Conservatoire, where he eventually failed to achieve the necessary distinction as a performer, turning his attention instead to composition. In 1846 he left home and went to earn his living in Paris as a teacher and organist, winning particular fame in that second capacity and attracting a loyal and devoted circle of pupils.
A man of gentle character, known to his pupils as ‘Pater seraphicus’ (Angelic Father), he exercised considerable influence through his classes and performances. As a composer, he remained something of an outsider for a Paris society largely interested in opera, but he left behind a number of works in several genres that continue to maintain his considerable stature as a composer.
Listen to an extract from
Franck's Panis angelicus
Following the release of their highly praised Naxos recording of Fauré’s Piano Quintets (8.570938)—‘warmly expressive, their phrasing generous and intense’ (The Guardian)—Cristina Ortiz and the Fine Arts Quartet again join forces for this recording of Franck’s Piano Quintet, the extraordinary emotional range of which is unified by the tight thematic relationships typical of the composer’s ‘cyclic’ structuring. His String Quartet, composed ten years later, is a summit of Franck’s achievement, also cyclically conceived and revealing his admiration of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
“Cristina Ortiz and the Fine Arts Quartet pinpoint the work’s [Quintet’s] volatility, with Ortiz throwing herself into the work’s demands. The quartet is excellent, too. Altogether a fine recording of works that are still done less than they should be.” – Gramophone
Listen to an extract from the Piano Quintet: III. Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco
The four works on this recording were written between 1843 and 1844 and chart the young César Franck’s concert tours when he appeared as a pianist and composer. Though written in his early twenties, they embody many of the characteristics that imbue the piano works written in his mature creative period from 1873: great colour, spiritual depth, organ imitation, wide dynamic ranges and powerful chordal writing. The Schubert transcriptions reveal Franck’s love of the composer’s songs, the Ballade, Op 9, already shows his commanding sense of development, while Souvenirs of Aix-la-Chapelle, Op 7, is deeply personal and spiritual, prophetic of the works to come.
“[Severus’s] lyrical tone, vivid ear for harmonic color, and commanding technique make her an ideal interpreter of Franck. This is a recording that should be in every pianophile’s collection.” – American Record Guide
Listen to an extract from Souvenir d'Aix-la-Chapelle
“The Symphonic Variations is one of the most satisfying accounts I have encountered - expressive and spontaneous, with a pearly tone and effusive embrace that make this no mere filler but a splendid addition to the catalog on its own account. Here is a rewarding collection of the familiar and not so familiar, expertly set forth and spaciously recorded, that readily repays the modest investment.”
– American Record Guide
Listen to an extract from
the Symphonic Variations
“Lebrun keeps the music moving even as he gives it the most natural ebb and flow - and breathing room. The organ provides precisely the sonorities Franck had in mind, by turns plush, piquant and brazen, and recorded sound is clear vivid and spacious.”
– The Dallas Morning News
“Here we have a Franck set that is compelling not only because of Naxos' low cost, but also because of the quality of the performances, informative notes, good recorded sound, and an instrument appropriate for the music itself.”
Listen to an extract from Pièce héroïque in B minor