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ON THE RECORD

'Franck Circle': What Goes Around . . .

July 10, 1994|HERBERT GLASS | Herbert Glass is a regular contributor to Calendar

It's difficult to believe that Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor vied with Beethoven's Fifth in frequency of performance by American and European orchestras from the turn of the century until World War II.

The Symphony, and the rest of Franck, have virtually disappeared from concert programs. But there's something brewing on recordings: not so much the reappearance of his music as that of his disciples, the so-called "Franck Circle," made up of his stellar pupils: Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) and Henri Duparc (1848-1933). Vincent d'Indy, once the best known of the group, is having his recorded innings as well, perhaps to offset the inevitable 75th recording of "Pictures at an Exhibition."

All three composers imbibed Franck's complex application of French formal logic to Wagnerian chromaticism. Chausson and Duparc made a better job of it. They had the lyric gift and the passion that d'Indy--perhaps even Franck himself--lacked.

In his Symphony in B-flat, completed in 1891, Chausson created a work that is Franckian in its melodic cast, but with the addition of rhythmic vitality.

The case for Chausson's Symphony, which has long had a cult following, is convincingly argued by Eduardo Mata and his former orchestra, the Dallas Symphony (Dorian 90181).

Their performance is at once elegant and vigorous. It also projects the elusive element that might be called "style." It moves at a smart clip but never rushes, and Mata encourages his responsive string players to employ portamento in the pursuit of expressivity, which is impressively achieved.

The Symphony is coupled with the best-known orchestral works of Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), his gaudy-pretty musical travelogue, "Escales," and his gaudy-dumb-satirical "Divertissement."

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Henri Duparc was, unlike Chausson, long-lived but even less prolific, limiting his output largely to the "Melodies," written when he was in his teens and early 20s and among the glories of the art-song literature.

All 17 are presented by the redoubtable Jose van Dam, who has clearly explored their every musical and textual cranny. But this stage of his career--he was 53 last year, when the recording (Forlane 16692) was made--finds his dark baritone too weighty to negotiate the more sinuous curves of this music.

Duparc's songs, the 13 published during a lifetime that saw him suffering from a series of nervous ailments and eventually blindness and paralysis, are more subtly and satisfyingly delivered by baritone Bernard Kruysen in the first CD appearance (Valois 4703) of a 23-year-old recording.

Kruysen hardly has Van Dam's power or steadiness, but he does have the flexibility and delicacy to make the greatest of the songs.

Kruysen is sympathetically seconded by pianist Noel Lee, whereas Van Dam gets merely non-specific accompaniment from Maciej Pikulski.

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Franck himself is represented by two vastly differing interpretations of what may be his most durable creation: the Sonata in A for violin and piano.

A young Anne Akiko Meyers plays it with attractively firm, focused tone--but also rather stiffly, with the concurrence (instigation?) of her pianist, Rohan de Silva (RCA 612830).

Gidon Kremer and his collaborator, Oleg Maisenberg, give the impression of a first, enraptured encounter with the score, bending rhythms and tempos at will (Chant du Monde/Praga 250 024).

Meyers and De Silva couple Franck with the young Richard Strauss' effusive Sonata, while Chant du Monde allows us a rare encounter with Franck's sole String Quartet, a huge, endearingly over-ambitious creation most of whose worth is contained in the vast opening movement.

Its performance by the Prague Quartet is grandly heated and expansive, a perfect match for the colorful Kremer-Maisenberg take on the Sonata and, like it, a treasure from the archives of Prague Radio.*

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