COMPOSERS: César Franck; Johannes Brahms
ALBUM TITLE: Franck • Brahms
WORKS: Franck: Prelude, Choral et Fugue; Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 3
PERFORMER: Sunwook Kim (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Accentus ACC303552
Franck and Brahms, on the surface, make surprising bedfellows. In their lifetimes, Brahms’s native Prussia and Franck’s adopted home of France became mortal enemies with the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Yet Franck’s Prélude, Choral et Fugue (premiered in 1885) and Brahms’s five-movement Sonata in F minor (written in 1853, when he was 20) have more in common than one might expect. Both involve cyclic elements, and are at times soul-searching; and each hints obliquely at a programmatic element, in Franck’s case a mystical unity of three-in-one, united at the end of the Fugue, and in Brahms’s a love poem by Sternau quoted alongside the first of the work’s two slow movements, a funeral march forming the second.
Sunwook Kim brings some splendid pianism and conceptual thinking to both works: a full-toned touch and resonant atmosphere connects the Prélude, Choral et Fugue strongly to Franck’s organ works. The Brahms Sonata is likewise rugged, full and somewhat chunky, its introverted, deeply serious aspect much to the fore. Given that this is such an early work, generous in span, fired up by his meeting with the Schumanns, one wonders if a more mercurial and extrovert approach to parts of it would have aided contrast – as would a different piece to precede it. As it is, the Franck lingers in our ears as the Brahms gets underway, perhaps projecting on to it some of its incense-laden resonances.