Program 157
"A Frankly Franck Sampler"


MUSIC: Franck: excerpt from Symphonic Variations performed by pianist François-Joël Thiollier with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Roberto Benzi [Naxos 8.553472, track 1] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Stay with me for the next hour and I’ll treat you to “A Frankly Franck Sampler” -- that is to say my picks for the very best music by the Belgian/French composer César Franck.

We’ll listen to the complete Symphonic Variations, which you here in the background, followed by the fourth movement of Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, followed by “Psyché et Éros” from Psyché. We’ll conclude with the first movement from Franck’s fantastic, powerful, one and only symphony, the Symphony in D Minor.

My hope is that, if any of these pieces are compact discoveries for you, you’ll add the complete works to your classical music collection so that you can enjoy them over and over for the years to come, as I have done for the many years since I discovered these marvelous works.


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But let’s start with a few words about the composer.

César Franck was born in Liège, Belgium, to a father from the German-Belgian border and a German mother. His father wanted him to become a concert pianist, and he studied at the music conservatory in Liège before going to the Paris Conservatoire in 1838. He returned to Belgium in 1842, but returned to Paris two years later and lived there for the rest of his life. His decision to give up a career as a virtuoso combined with his choice of a wife led to strained relations with his father.

During his first years in Paris, Franck made his living by teaching, both privately and institutionally. He also held various posts as organist. In 1858, he became organist at the newly-consecrated Saint Clotilde Basilica, where he remained until his death. From 1872 until his death he was also professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory. His pupils included Vincent d'Indy and Ernest Chausson.

In 1890, Franck was involved in a serious traffic accident, and died as a result of complications from the accident. He was buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra was written in 1885. It is one of his most famous compositions and, like his other great pieces, was created in his later years. We’ll hear it now as performed by pianist François-Joël Thiollier with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra of the Netherlands conducted by Roberto Benzi.

MUSIC: Franck: Symphonic Variations performed by the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Roberto Benzi [Naxos 8.553472, track 1] [14:53]

César Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra. The pianist was François-Joël Thiollier. The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Roberto Benzi.

Since the Symphonic Variations only took 15 minutes to play, I was able to present the piece in its entirety. The same is not true for the other works I’ll present this hour, which is why I call this program “A Frankly Franck Sampler.” My hope is that you’ll enjoy the samples so much, you’ll want to add the full pieces to your collection.

For example, up next is the fourth movement of Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major. This is one of my very favorite chamber music pieces. The entire work is gorgeous from beginning to end, but we only have time for the end as performed by the Armenian brother and sister team of Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan. Sergey is the violinist; Lusine is the pianist on this Naïve compact disc from France.

MUSIC: Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major: Fourth Movement: Allegro Poco Mosso performed by Sergey Khachatryan, violin, and Lusine Khachatryan, piano [Naïve V5122, track 4] [6:40]

The fourth movement of Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major. Sergey Khachatryan was the violinist; Lusine Khachatryan was the pianist on this Naïve compact disc.

You are listening to “A Frankly Franck Sampler” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in total timing of the program]

Program notes writer Julian Haylock calls César Franck’s Psyché “Franck’s most unaccountably neglected score.” The work began life as a musical retelling of the tale of Psyché’s love for Eros from the Ancient Greek original. Franck’s initial vision was of a symphony for chorus and orchestra. It was this 50-minute version that premiered in 1888 at the Société Nationale de Musique.

But the inclusion of a chorus greatly limited the number of performances Franck could expect to take place, so he came up with a second version in the form of a tone poem that uses the four main orchestral sections of the score.

We are going to listen to the “Psyché et Eros” section of Franck’s tone poem now as performed on a 2002 Avie CD by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig. I’m frankly not sure how to pronounce his name since he is a European of French, Danish and Polish origin who was born in England! Perhaps the pronunciation depends on where he is conducting.

MUSIC: Franck: Psyché et Eros performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig [Avie AV 0003, track 4] [8:59]

“Psyché et Eros” from César Franck’s Psyché as performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig.

You are listening to “A Frankly Franck Sampler” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

Have I saved the very best of César Franck for last? Not really, although I think Franck’s three-movement Symphony in D Minor is one of the greatest orchestral pieces ever written. I guess that’s a fancy way of saying that I personally like it very much, from beginning to end. I enjoy the way Franck takes melodies from one movement and brings them back in other forms in other movements, giving a unity to the entire work. Incidentally, that technique is one of Franck’s trademarks.

Since the symphony runs more than 40 minutes, I can just give you a taste of it now by playing the opening movement. That will introduce you to its themes and emotional power. I hope you’ll enjoy this piece as much as I do and add it to your music collection if it isn’t there already. The recording I’m going to use is on the same CD as the piece we just heard: the Avie compact disc with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig.

MUSIC: Franck: Symphony in D Minor: First Movement: Lento - Allegro non troppo performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig [Avie AV 0003, track 5] [20:04]

The first movement of César Franck’s only symphony. It was performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig.

MUSIC: Franck: excerpt from Symphonic Variations performed by pianist François-Joël Thiollier with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Roberto Benzi [Naxos 8.553472, track 1] [under the following]

This brings us to the end of “A Frankly Franck Sampler” on Compact Discoveries. I hope you’ve enjoyed this music and will want to hear more of the works of this wonderful Belgian/French romantic composer on your own.

If you missed any of this hour or would like to hear it again, go to www.compactdiscoveries.com on the internet where you’ll find links to stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. Look for program number 157. At the web site you’ll also find scripts for every Compact Discoveries program, including this one, with complete information on every recording I use. You’ll find a link there to help you purchase classical compact discs, and there are other features there as well, including my lists of recommended orchestral music, concert DVDs, and CDs and DVDs of classics for kids.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening and for supporting your local public radio station. It is that kind of support which makes the broadcast of this program possible in your community.

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ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]: Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by grants from an anonymous donor, Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, the Puffin Foundation ("continuing the dialogue between art and the lives of ordinary people"), and Barry and Florence Friedberg. It is a production of Compact Discoveries, Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation located at 36 Pickens Lane, Weaverville, North Carolina, and on the web at compactdiscoveries.com. These programs are distributed to public radio stations nationwide through PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. [0:30]

Program Ends at 58:00

 
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