Franck: Three Chorales; Grande Pièce symphonique, Op. 17; Fantaisie in A

COMPOSERS: Franck
LABELS: Solstice
ALBUM TITLE: Franck
WORKS: Three Chorales; Grande Pièce symphonique, Op. 17; Fantaisie in A
PERFORMER: Pierre Pincemaille (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: SOCD 231-2
Into the already crowded room comes another Franck intégrale. Pincemaille is the titulaire of the oldest Cavaillé-Coll organ in France, St Denis, but records here on one of this organ builder’s latest masterpieces, St Sernin, Toulouse. I’m all for taking Franck by the scruff of the neck, and there’s no lacklustre here. Pincemaille’s interpretations are wilfully non-conformist, in some cases quirky in the extreme. Ne’er the gluey legato we have come to expect in Franck performances; instead we get a choppy, often splashy assault on these sainted phrases. The Pastorale and Prelude, Fugue and Variation are not without charm, but the lack of inexorable growth through the symphonic pieces (in particular the three great Chorals) left me wanting less small talk and more utterance.

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Curiously, the Grande Pièce Symphonique elicits a sense of sweep that is nowhere else evident, and the first movement, when it finally kicks into top gear, sounds like the Berlin Phil at full tilt. It’s wonderful, thrilling stuff, and gives the lie to the old saw that you can’t play fast on these venerable instruments. The heavenly Toulouse organ, of course, is a major factor in its success, as is the excellent sound quality. As much as this recording is refreshing, at the final count it will always be a curiosity. For a more patrician reading of Franck try Susan Landale’s intégrale. William Whitehead