Franck: Symphony in D minor; Symphonic Variations; Pièce héroïque

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COMPOSERS: Franck
LABELS: Sony Essential Classics
WORKS: Symphony in D minor; Symphonic Variations; Pièce héroïque
PERFORMER: Robert Casadesus (piano), E Power Biggs (organ)Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
CATALOGUE NO: SBK 60287 ADD Reissue (1959-62)
I remember the sleeve note for an old recording of the Franck Symphony which referred to the music’s ‘organic’ construction. Was the allusion to the instrument or to the creation of living matter? Either would be appropriate. Certainly Franck’s fondness for the organ is betrayed by the layered textures and sustained pedal notes in his orchestration. But there is also a sense in which this symphony, in particular the first movement, does indeed grow from slender roots into a living creation of monumental grandeur. It has the same feeling of almost irresistible momentum that distinguishes the famous violin sonata, composed two years earlier.

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Ormandy’s 1961 performance sounds grand enough. The remastered recording is rich and clear. But Munch’s 1957 version reveals that there is another way: the recording has a slightly reedy ‘archive’ quality, but he introduces a level of excitement and vivacity that this often over-inflated music desperately needs. Ormandy’s opulence is fine. Munch’s reckless pace and swinging brass lines are revelatory. Christopher Lambton