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Burton Rothleder
Fanfare, November 2011

Frank was a pupil of Artur Schnabel, and the playing here epitomizes Schnabel’s unpretentious, thoroughly musical approach to these composers. Frank surpasses his eminent teacher in the Beethoven sonatas in terms of phrasing and clarity… These Beethoven sonata performances are the most satisfying of the very many that I have encountered.

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2011

These studio performances, actually recorded slightly before he turned 85, confirm Frank’s continued viability as a thinking man’s pianist. The more recent recordings presented here display…mastery of color, form, and stylistic sensitivity. After tiring of the hotshot young virtuosos, it is a relief to turn to Frank and to hear music-making in which the ego is put entirely at the service of the composer.

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, May 2011

The big question attached to this release is, “Why now?” Many collectors will recognize Claude Frank’s name from the complete set of Beethoven sonatas he recorded in the 1970s, and which were released on RCA Victrola LPs. (These now are available on Music & Arts.) There have been a couple of other releases since then—Beethoven’s and Schubert’s works for violin and piano, recorded with his daughter, Pamela Frank—but for the most part, Claude Frank is a major pianist who has been ignored by the recording industry. In other words, the present release is welcome, and very satisfying, and when I look at how many CDs Lang Lang has made since the start of his career, the infrequency of Frank’s recordings makes me mad.

Recorded in New York’s American Academy for Arts and Letters in 2008 and 2009, this pair of discs captures Frank a little before his 85th birthday. (He was born in 1925.) Initially, I thought that these were going to be live performances. Apparently they are not, but Frank’s playing, both intimate and communicative, suggests the presence of an audience of one—that being you, dear listener. Frank’s frequent vocalises, in the manner of Glenn Gould, will not endear these readings to everyone. Somehow, they add to the intimacy of the music-making.

In the generous booklet that accompanies this release, Frank discusses his lengthy studies with Artur Schnabel. (Frank studied with him between 1941 and 1951, but there was a break after he was drafted into the United States Army during World War II.) Frank’s repertory has much in common with Schnabel’s, and his playing resembles his teacher’s in several ways as well. Above all, effect for effect’s sake is rejected. Frank’s playing is not flashy, but it goes right to the music’s core like an arrow seeking the bull’s-eye. One way in which it differs from Schnabel’s is in Frank’s occasional use of a technique in which the left hand slightly anticipates the right. (This can be clearly heard in the middle movement, the Allegro molto, of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31.) I know this drives some listeners crazy, and if you are one of them, consider yourself warned. Frank doesn’t do it often enough to make it a mannerism, though. In the sequence of repeated G-Major chords that ushers in that final section, Frank (I think through a combination of pedaling and touch) creates a sonority I have never heard coming from a piano. A little later, in the final fugal section, Frank realizes Beethoven’s odd rhythmic dislocations with greater clarity than I have heard from any other pianist. In the three Beethoven sonatas, Frank does not suffer in comparison to his younger self, and the engineering is better, too.

The other performances are terrific as well. In Schubert’s sonata, Frank captures a quality that I consider essential to much of the composer’s later work, that being the song of a bird who sings still more beautifully even as he perceives that a cat is about to pounce on him. A similar quality pervades the Mozart Rondo in A Minor. Mozart’s Sonata in C is unaffected—it is neither fragile Dresden china nor a jolly rugby scrum. The Schumann miniatures are warm but not overly sentimental. Frank understands that romantic music does not mean “anything goes.” Above all, in all of these works, including the Beethoven, Frank lets the music speak for itself. Like the finest pianists at work today (Perahia, Lupu, Schiff, etc.), his personality supports the music and does not compete with it.

The musicianship on these discs stands up to anything else in front of the public at this time. Piano mavens whose heads are not turned by mere virtuosity should acquire this release immediately, if they have not done so already!

Alan Becker
American Record Guide, March 2011

These recent recordings (2008–9) were made at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York. While there might be some apprehension over Frank’s technical abilities at this advanced age, the playing is outstanding. Interpretively, this one time pupil of Schnabel dares to conquer the mountain, and does so in a way that can shame many a young whipper-snapper of today.

The intelligent and often revealing notes offer some interesting statements. Among them is this one offered by the pianist. “My repertoire changes. As I get older, I play what I really know and love. The four composers I love most, chronologically, are Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. For those four can do no wrong. Every note by them is holy. I present their music as if they are gifts from God, which of course they are.” This recording offers all four, plus Schumann.

Schumann’s beautiful Arabesque is played with heartbreaking emotion. Frank’s tone is always caressingly lovely; there is never a harsh accent or an over-the-top inflection. When I choose to listen to the piece, this is the one I shall reach for most often.

The presence of Schumann’s ‘Träumerei’ and ‘Warum’ cause me to lament that the entire Kinderszenen and Fantasiestucke had not been included. Both performances are of a high standard, with total immersion in their romantic sensibilities. Frank also emphasizes their passing dissonances.

Mozart’s Sonata 10 in C and Rondo, K 511, emerge in a straightforward manner, with classical restraint yet little holding back in either volume or attention to detail. Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat is notable for its intense clarity and the full romantic expression Frank brings to it. It is a deeply moving presentation of one of the composer’s finest achievements.

The last three Beethoven sonatas are hardly victims of neglect. Frank’s musicianship and expressive maturity weighs in heavily against the competition. 30: I begins with an almost Schumannesque character that bursts without pause into the energetic Prestissimo. This is followed by a sublime theme and variations. Frank unerringly gives us every emotion, every stress-and-release. He clearly loves the music and conveys this to the listener in a manner that illuminates the soul of the piece.

Sonata 31, like all the other pieces in this celebration, has the advantage of Dorian’s superb, well balanced, clear, yet never overpowering sonics. The intimacy of Beethoven’s conception is fully understood, and all seems right with a world that seems determined to push itself further towards the precipice. Although the composer had only six more years to live and his sound world was reduced only to what his mind related to his inner soul, Frank fully conveys the yearning, anguish, and profundity of this music, encased in a sphere of unlimited dimension.

Sonata 32 has only two movements, the first in Sonata Allegro form, and the last, once again, a Theme and Variations. When his biographer, Schindler, questioned the composer about the two-movement structure, he replied that he had no time to write a third. An Allegro Finale had been outlined but never completed. The notes quote Hungarian-American pianist Sari Biro (reviewed this issue), who describes it as “a thread woven between earth and heaven by the aspiration of a great soul”. Frank’s performance occupies its own unique niche for its intensity and probing depth. No collection should be without this magnificent album.

WGBH, February 2011

Pianist Claude Frank will be 85 on Christmas Eve, and these performances of Schumann, Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven (the last three Sonatas) were recorded in 2008 and 2009. Claude Frank spent many years working with Artur Schnabel, absorbing his philosophies and expertise, and he has recently finished his memoirs, titled “The Music that Saved My Life: From Hitler’s Germany to the World’s Concert Stages”. A very wise and moving two-CD set on the Dorian label.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, February 2011

What a handsome testimonial this is to the great German-born American pianist, appearing on the eve of his 85th birthday (Nuremburg, 24 December, 1925). The best part of it is, he’s still around to enjoy the celebration. And in top form, too, judging from these 2008–2009 recordings made by producer Judith Sherman (a major name in her own field) at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC. In particular, I’ve never heard a more moving, comprehensive account of Schubert’s final Sonata in B-flat, D960, and Frank’s Mozart selections opened new insights for me into music I’d more or less taken for granted.

In praising Claude Frank, critics and admirers usually start with his technique. And for sure, the student of the famed Artur Schnabel (1882–1951) can be a demon for precision, even down to Schnabel’s admonition to keep the hands perfectly together and not play hands apart when the notes are meant to be sounded simultaneously, which is something many pianists do unconsciously because of the more expressive sound. Richard Dyer, for instance, says thus of the pianist: “He understands musical architecture and the function of detail, and he invests every phrase with meaning.” But Dyer also adds praises Frank’s playing for its “fire…, nobility, inwardness, humor, and humanity.” And certainly, there are no throwaway phrases in any performance by this artist, who gives every musical utterance its due importance.

That is a key to understanding why his performance of Schumann’s oft-mistreated Arabeske is as insightful as it is. Indeed, I can say this was the first time it had ever struck me as filled with purpose and not just incontinent rhapsodizing, and the first in which the final section appeared as an integral part of the piece and not just an afterthought. Schumann’s Traümerai and Warum? also benefit from Frank’s insightful approach. Likewise, Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, K511 strikes me in this performance as more just the simple dance-like piece its title proclaims it to be, as we are filled with both a word-weary melancholy and a tantalizing glimpse of eternity. As a mater of fact, Frank really gets into all the Mozart pieces in this recital, which includes Sonata in C Major, K330. The quiet moments in the Andante Cantabile are particularly moving. As a bonus, we can even hear the pianist humming sympathetically and almost inaudibly underneath the music, so deeply is he involved with it. In other recordings by other artists, this sort of thing can be disconcerting. Here, it is totally and completely charming.

In the opening movement of Schubert’s B-flat Sonata, Frank pays strict attention to the composer’s marking of Molto moderato, which is of vital importance for the tension between the perfect regularity implied in moderate time and the emotionally charged upheavals when the bass in the first theme unexpectedly rises instead of descending, or when Schubert interrupts the flow of the music at key moments with the low, menacing tremolos which have such a disquieting effect. The Andante sostenuto, described as the most tonally remote inner movement in all Schubert’s sonatas, is sad, mysterious, and hauntingly beautiful. With the weight of the sonata squarely in its first half, Frank is free to take the last two movements, Scherzo and Allegro, as a pianist’s holiday, as he happily makes his way through rhythmic clashes and daring adventures that have no power to trouble his serenity.

Seems I haven’t left much column space to describe Claude Frank’s masterful performances of Beethoven’s last three Sonatas, Opp. 109, 110, and 111, on Disc 2. Perhaps the opening movement of Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109, marked Vivace ma non troppo Adagio Espressivo, will suffice as a comment on Beethoven’s daring and Frank’s ability to imbue every moment with meaning. Out of a “cloud of sounds” (Beethoven) a gay melody skips forth on a continuous chain of sixteenth notes outlining an E Major chord progression that becomes disquieting when the music stops unexpectedly. I’ve always gotten goose bumps at this moment, and Frank pulls it off to perfection. I’m reminded of a poem by Robert frost, often printed in anthologies: “Out through the fields and the woods / And over the walls I have wended; / I have climbed the hills of view / And looked at the world, and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended.”

Jed Distler, January 2011

These 2008/09 recordings were made in anticipation of Claude Frank’s 85th birthday on December 24, 2010, and testify to the veteran pianist’s seasoned musicianship and remarkably intact technique. Frank always has played Schubert’s final sonata supremely well, and you can forgive the occasionally uneven phrase or split note in light of the pianist’s warm tone and intelligently shaped long lines, especially in the first-movement development section and throughout the slow movement. Frank’s moderate tempo for the Scherzo allows the music its lilting, delicate due, while the finale boasts genuine cumulative urgency and a driving coda that ought to keep younger pianists humble.

The Mozart C major K. 330 sonata sports characterful grace, wit, and spot-on timing. Frank’s bracing and direct treatment of the Mozart A minor Rondo demonstrates how to convey expressive niceties through color and nuance rather than by monkeying around with tempo. Likewise, the Schumann short pieces elicit eloquent, tellingly proportioned artistry.

By and large Frank plays the last three Beethoven sonatas with greater deliberation and lyricism than in his relatively faster RCA studio versions from nearly four decades earlier. The incisive punch and accentuation of yore has given way to more songful phrasing and room to breathe, although Frank’s dynamic range ventures less toward Beethoven’s extremes. This is a memorable release showcasing Claude Frank in authoritative performances of the music he loves best.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 2010

This set, titled 85th Birthday Celebration, records his musical thoughts while it’s still possible, and the repertoire suits that station in life: the last three Beethoven sonatas and Schubert’s swan song in that medium, all warmly recorded by producer Judith Sherman. One might expect self-indulgent ruminating; instead, there are profound acts of conciliation with Beethoven’s far-flung musical elements coexisting, sometimes even comfortably. His Schubert refreshingly lacks morbidity. Though you hear some technical labor, the disc lacks the recklessness of Frank’s live performances, and that’s the one thing missing here.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, December 2010

There is a quality of quiet wisdom in these performances, recorded in 2008 and 2009. Frank was always an introspective player and now, in his 80s, I think he is even more so. If there is a fault in these gossamer recordings it is that the beauty and delicacy of Frank’s playing are too predictable.

You know how he is going to play something—you can hear it in your head. He does not exactly take chances. The late Beethoven sonatas—Op. 109, 110 and 111—are ethereal, but I found myself wishing they had more of the oomph he musters for the last movement of the great Schubert B flat Sonata, D. 960.

On the other hand, this is personal taste, plus there is a lot to be said for straightforward beauty and intuition, both of which Frank has in abundance. It is disarming, too, how Frank hits a clunker right at the high point of Schumann’s “Traumerei” and just plays on. Happy birthday, Maestro. Many more!

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