Franck: Piano Quintet; Violin Sonata

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COMPOSERS: Franck
LABELS: Cascavelle
ALBUM TITLE: Franck
WORKS: Piano Quintet; Violin Sonata
PERFORMER: Dan Zhu (violin), Philippe Entremont (piano); Aron Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: VEL 3094

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Franck’s masterly Piano Quintet is the first chamber work from the golden period of creativity that marks his final compositional maturity. Saint-Saëns was taken aback by the Quintet’s phenomenal expressive vigour and novel form, and only a zombie would be left unmoved by even a half-decent account. The Aron Quartet and Philippe Entremont are more than half-decent, forthright once the first movement gets going and riding the ebb and flow of tension while keeping an eye on the broader picture. The tender echoes in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto are sublimely handled, and the final movement builds a good head of steam, all captured in clear, natural sound. Nonetheless, there are also some places where, in this most passionate of works, the playing is curiously detached. In other accounts, the silences at the opening can be disturbing portents of the turmoil to come, or poetic moments of tenderness amidst the ardent dialogue of statement and counter-statement. Here, they are just silences, the music having merely stopped for a few seconds. For the violin sonata, Entremont swaps the Aron Quartet’s dynamism for the extraordinary crystalline purity of tone that Dan Zhu somehow extracts from four strings on a lump of wood. Zhu adds some grit for the second movement, but the effect is of furies not so much unleashed as politely paraded. Elsewhere, there is plenty of flair, even if the pacing is a little strait-laced, making a beautiful sounding if not entirely convincing account of this violinists’ favourite. For a more expressive account with appropriate fire in the second movement, try Kyung Wha Chung’s classic version. Christopher Dingle