Franck¥Massenet

COMPOSERS: Franck,Massenet
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Franck,Massenet
WORKS: Symphonic Variations; Les DjinnsPiano Concerto
PERFORMER: Idil Biret (piano); Bilkent SO/Alain Pâris
CATALOGUE NO: 104
Franck is perhaps not generally given enough credit for the inventiveness of his piano textures. Furthermore, as these operate largely in the treble, it’s crucial to have an instrument that responds sympathetically in this region. Unfortunately the piano used here becomes brittle and even harsh from the middle of the keyboard upwards, most unsettlingly of all in the introductory flourish in Les djinns. I can’t deny either that I find Idil Biret rather unimaginative in all three works: her phrasing is predictable and I’m not persuaded by her attempts at Franck’s ‘espressivo’, ‘ad lib’ and ‘con fantasia’ in the Variations. At the start of this work the conductor gets things off to an unbalanced start by cutting rests in the peremptory challenge from the strings. The idea may have been to give this opening an edge. But the rests are important in lending this challenge an authority that the piano then has to meet in its ad lib terms.

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Franck is far better served on the Naxos disc where Thiollier, as well as making a warm sound, displays an unerring grasp of the narrative line, helped by Benzi’s taut rhythms and seductive textures. This disc also contains the Second Concerto (an extraordinary effort, if indeed written by Franck at the age of 13), where Martijn van den Hoek lets off the necessary fireworks. Anyone wanting the Massenet Concerto would surely be happier with the Hyperion version, both for the actual sound and for Stephen Coombs’s greater stylistic understanding.

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Roger Nichols