French Music for Piano and Orchestra (Antonio de Almeida/ Chris Craker/ Francois-Joel Thiollier/ Ireland National Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550754)
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French Music for Piano & Orchestra
Cesar Franck (1822 - 1890)
Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)
Ballade, Op. 19
Vincent d'Indy (1851 - 1931)
Symphony on a French Mountain Air
Symphonie sur un chant montagnard fran?ºais, Op. 25
It was only after many years of relative obscurity that the Belgian-borncomposer Cesar Franck began to assume a public position of influence in themusical life of Paris. Born in Liege in 1822, he had been intended by his fatherfor a career as a virtuoso pianist and was launched into the world of publicperformance in 1835, with a repertoire that included comparatively superficialcompositions of his own. Moving to Paris in the same year, Franck made hisnecessary concert debut in the city, continuing piano lessons with Gounod'sfather-in-law Zimmermann and lessons in harmony and counterpoint with AntonReicha, before naturalisation as a French citizen allowed entry to theConservatoire. In 1842 he left the Conservatoire, now with the immediate aim offulfilling his father's ambitions for him. The years immediately following fellshort of the latter's expectations, while Franck himself began to win someattention as a composer. In 1846 he left his father's house, now resolved tomake his own way in music, as best he could, as a teacher and organist.
In 1848, during the June days of the workers uprising, Franck married. In1853 he became organist at the church of St. Jean - St. Fran?ºois du Marais,with its Cavaille-Coll organ, embarking on an association with that firm, whichprovided a particularly fine instrument for the church of Ste. Clotilde, whereFranck was appointed organist in 1858. Here he began to acquire a reputation forhis improvisations and to attract pupils, who regarded him as their Paterseraphicus, a tribute to his character. In 1871 he was at last given anappointment at the Conservatoire as professor of organ, and now began to attractyoung composers to his classes, including, in 1872, Vincent d'Indy, who becameone of Franck's most loyal disciples. The following years brought a number ofimportant compositions, including the oratorio Les beatitudes, thesymphonic poems Le chasseur maudit and Les Djinns, psyche andfinally the symphony. Chamber music of the later period of his life included thepiano quintet, violin sonata and piano quartet.
Franck's Symphonic Variations, among the most popular works of therepertoire for piano and orchestra, were written in 1885 and first performed ata societe Nationale concert the following year. The Variations arescored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, trumpets,timpani, strings and solo piano. The work opens with a string figure of urgentintensity, answered gently by the piano, a pattern of two distinct elements thatcontinues. The introduction leads to a statement of the theme, already implied,and six variations, through which can be heard the opening string figure, whilethe material allotted to the piano in the introduction provides a mood ofrelaxation in a later episode and the bass part to a subsidiary subject in thefinal tripartite sonata-form structure with which the variations end.
Gabriel Faure, like Franck, was for many years an outsider in the officialmusical world of Paris. Instead of entering the Conservatoire, he enrolled as astudent at the Ecole Niedermeyer, with its emphasis on church music, sixteenthcentury counterpoint, plainchant and the organ. Here his most important teacherwas Saint-Sa?½ns, who became a close friend and mentor. From him Faure acquireda wider range of contemporary musical interest than the school would haveprovided. Following an established French tradition, he started his professionalcareer, after graduation in 1865, as an organist in Rennes, followed by a seriesof similar appointments in Paris, notably at St. Sulpice and at the Madeleine,and eventually, on the death of the conservative director Ambroise Thomas, to aposition as teacher of composition at the Conservatoire, where his pupilsincluded Ravel. It was in the aftermath of the scandal arising from Ravel'sfailure to win the Prix de Rome that Faure was appointed director of theConservatoire, a position he retained until 1920. As a composer he occupies anunrivalled place in French song, with a similar achievement in his music forpiano. His musical language, advanced by the standards of his time, exploresoblique harmonic relationships and often has about it a beauty and poignancythat reflects the mood at the time, the inexpressible yearning for an imaginedpast, heard above all in his settings at Verlaine.
Faure's Opus 19 Ballade was completed in 1879 and intended for solopiano, with a dedication to Saint-Sa?½ns. It was arranged by the composer in1881 for piano with orchestral accompaniment and revised twenty years later.
Scored for an orchestra with pairs at flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons andhorns, with strings, it opens with the piano statement of the F sharp majorBallade theme, with the gently increasing accompaniment of the strings and apassage in which the flute plays the theme in canon with the piano. This Andantecantabile is followed by a slower section, marked Lento, introduced by thecello, with a key change to E flat minor, the enharmonic equivalent of D sharpminor, the relative minor of the original key. Here there is a second theme,introduced by the first violins, to which the flute adds the earlier thematicmaterial, the basis for a piano episode. An Andante allows the flute tointroduce a third theme, punctuated by the gentle figuration of the piano,accompanied by muted lower strings. The third theme has foreshadowed thethematic material of the last section, marked Allegro, with the return of thesecond theme, as the work comes to an end, a tripartite structure of over-allunity.
The leading follower of Cesar Franck, Vincent d'Indy had already enjoyedsame exposure as a composer before becoming a pupil of Franck in 1872, makinghis serious debut as a composer two years later. He was much influenced byWagner, having been present at the first performance of the Ring cycle inBayreuth in 1876, but nevertheless established his own characteristically Frenchmusical language in the following years. His influence as a teacher made itselffelt particularly through the Schola Cantorum, which he established in Paris in1894 with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant, originally for the study ofearly church music, but soon a rival to the Conservatoire.
Vincent d'Indy's Symphonie sur un chant montagnard fran?ºais,otherwise known as the Symphonie cevenole, from the source of itsinspiration, the Cevennes, was written in 1886. It is scored for three flutes,two oboes, a cor anglais, two clarinets, a bass clarinet, three bassoons, fourhorns, pairs of trumpets and cornets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum,cymbals and triangle, harp, strings and solo piano. Franck, Faure and d'Indyall made use of relatively novel structural techniques, new means of securingthe musical unity of a composition, derived in part from Liszt's method ofthematic metamorphosis. Franck's Symphonic Variations, like Faure's lesssubstantial Ballade, interweave thematic elements to effect this unity.
The mountain song, the folk-song theme on which the symphony is based, isappropriately heard from the cor anglais, accompanied by muted strings in theslow introductory section, the music growing faster as the solo piano isaccompanied by a derivative of the song played by bassoon, cello and doublebass. A piano versi