Prélude, choral et fugue; Prélude, aria et final; Prélude, fugue et variation; Choral pour grand orgue, No. 2
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902642 66:35 mins
There is much fine piano playing here. Nikolai Lugansky not only storms Franck’s barns with authority and rich tone but in the quieter passages finds a tenderness for which the composer has not always been given due credit. As well as Franck’s last two piano works, he includes two arrangements of organ pieces: of the Prélude, fugue et variation by Harold Bauer (better known for giving the first performance of Debussy’s Children’s Corner) and of the second Choral by himself.
Bauer’s arrangement is mostly straightforward, with a few extra flourishes that, personally, I could have done without, but which are tolerable. But in the Choral, Lugansky for the only time indulges in passages of rubato and altered tempos that for me go against the grain of the piece. Franck’s pupil Vincent d’Indy praised the three Chorals for what he called their ‘procédé amplificateur’, the ‘amplification’ residing, as I take it, not so much in increased dynamics or complexity as in the very notes themselves: we are ineluctably swept on by the tide of ever richer invention. Rubato merely gets in the way. This is particularly the case in this second Choral because of a short quasi-improvisatory central section marked ‘Largamente con fantasia’, surely suggesting that elsewhere ‘fantasy’ should be given short shrift? I readily accept that other listeners may react less strenuously than me, regarding this performance as merely availing itself of the licence generally accorded to ‘cover versions’. In any case, outside the Choral there is much to admire.