Franck piano EPRC0048

César Franck (1822-1890)
Between Two Worlds
Prélude, choral et fugue FWV.21 (1884)
Prélude, aria et final FWV.23 (1886-1887)
Prélude, fugue et variation FWV.30 (1862, transcr. Ignaz Friedman)
Violin Sonata in A major FWV.8 (1886, transcr. Alfred Cortot)
Yannick van de Velde (piano)
rec. 2022, Conservatoire de la ville de Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Dutch pianist Yannick van de Velde has chosen the only mature piano compositions by César Franck for his disc and he balances the recital marvellously with two seldom heard transcriptions; one of Franck’s most familiar works, the violin sonata, in the masterly arrangement by Alfred Cortot and the organ Prélude, fugue et variation played not in Harold Bauer’s more familiar arrangement but rather the version by Polish pianist Ignaz Friedman, published a year after his death. It makes for a very satisfying recital programme.

The booklet notes, in English only, are by the pianist and explain the title; Franck, a Belgian who spent most of his life in France, a romantic with the structure of the Austro-German composers, the cyclical structure of Liszt and the contrapuntal writing of Bach in his blood. There are notes dedicated to three of the works here; oddly nothing is said about about the Prélude, fugue et variation and neither are the transcribers, giant names in their own right, mentioned. Van de Velde is an accomplished pianist but he is up against some stiff competition in the first item here and just the one I listened to most recently, Nicolai Lugansky on Harmonia Mundi (HMM902642 review) has the edge for me with his more flexible approach and greater range of colours. Van de Velde has the command and I enjoy at lot of his playing but occasionally I found I was wanting more dynamic variety and more pliable phrasing. This is more noticeable in the Prélude, aria et final; in the opening pages Franck marks a molto crescendo leading to a pianissimo, dolcissimo subito that I don’t hear and in the marcato il tema just a couple of bars later the theme is placed beautifully but the right hand octaves seem a little too marked as well.

Ignaz Friedman was a romantic pianist of the highest order and considering his own playing and some of the writing in his other transcriptions it comes as something of a surprise to find that while his transcription of the Prélude, fugue et variation is similar to Harold Bauer’s it is actually more restrained, lacking Bauer’s thicker bass textures and mini-cadenzas in the transition. Again he plays well and if he doesn’t achieve the utter weightlessness of the melody that Mariam Batsashvili achieves in her recent recording of Bauer’s version (Warner Classics 9029629061 review) he is still worth hearing. More convincing yet is the Cortot transcription of the violin Sonata; this is something of a tour de force, Cortot integrating the violin part wonderfully and Van de Velde responds to its challenges with a greater sense of fantasy than I find in his sometimes more rigorous playing earlier in the recital.

I am certainly enjoying this recital and am aware that ultimately van de Velde plays with technical acumen and precision, an assured touch and a clear vision of the music. Personally however it is just that everything feels correct rather than inspired and I miss that sense of passions bubbling under only just held in check. Production and sound are all first class and even if I can’t offer it my highest recommendation it is still an attractive recital with polished performances.

Rob Challinor

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