Franck: Symphony in D minor; Symphonic Variations; Les Éolides

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COMPOSERS: Franck
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony in D minor; Symphonic Variations; Les Éolides
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9875
Yan Pascal Tortelier’s long series of French music recordings has often proved ideal in tone colour, pacing and expressive style, limited only by the orchestras’ technique. Happily the BBC Philharmonic, like the Ulster Orchestra before it, has steadily improved towards performances that appeal more deeply than the relatively slick catalogue conducted by Charles Dutoit – not a current option for Franck’s Symphony anyway.

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This time Les Éolides joins a well-tried pairing. It’s a fleet, atmospheric tone poem whose delicacy of sound will surprise listeners who know only the Symphony. Really it is more typical of Franck, as witness at least the Symphony’s middle movement. Tortelier feels slow in this latter fusion of scherzo and lyrical interlude, until the pointed vitality of the more animated music vindicates him. The whole Symphony has unusual rhythmic energy and, elsewhere, pace, moving the first movement on so that the big tunes pick up momentum instead of making the structure sag. Incisive brass tone helps the climaxes glow and exult.

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Again typically fresh, Romantic and fluent in the Symphonic Variations, Tortelier has an evident ally in Lortie, who makes the beginning conversational rather than brusque and unfolds the melodies with broad rubato and a full tonal range. There’s a lovely transition to the central variations, and a surging finale. Chandos catches the bright sound colours and keeps resonance under control. Main items become clear choices in the absence of idiomatic alternatives for the Symphony, and for the Variations unless you fancy more offbeat couplings from Rogé (ASV) and the historical Cortot (Naxos or Philips). Robert Maycock