FRANÇAIX Variations on a Pleasant Theme. 5 Portraits of Young Girls. Concerto for Two Pianos. Harpsichord Concerto. Le gay Paris. 9 Characteristic Pieces. L’heure du berger. 7 Dances. Guitar Concerto. Exotic Dances. 11 Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Elegie on the Bicentenary of Mozart’s Death. A Small European Waltz. Quasi improvvisando. Mozart new-look. Homage to My Friend Papageno. Various transcriptions for wind ensemble • Various Soloists,Read more Conductors, and Ensembles • WERGO 6956 2 (3 CDs: 227:43)
With Françaix’s 100th birthday in 2012, Wergo reissued much of the composer’s backlog they’ve let collect in their vaults—roughly a third of it, last seen on LP. It’s good to have it available, though some enthusiasm for the composer might be apparent if the company had also included all the original liner notes. Instead, we get a list of selections, a short generic bio, a few pictures, performer bios, and recording dates. There are several highpoints to this set. The Concerto for Two Pianos is one: a more ambitious, varied work than most of Françaix’s compositions, though never at a loss for brashly attractive themes or high spirits. The Guitar Concerto occasionally recalls Django Reinhardt in the syncopations of its first Larghetto movement. In his Five Portraits of Young Girls for piano, Françaix utilizes character titles much like those of French composers during the latter years of Louis XIV and the Regency, with one of these pieces, La Capricieuse, in clear if unstated musical homage to Chabrier. The Harpsichord Concerto curiously diverges from the conventional approach taken by Poulenc and Rieti that treats the instrument as a melodic soloist, emphasizing instead its rhythmic and harmonic qualities in washes of colorful chords. The eight Danses exotiques are about as exotic as a rum-based drink served with a little umbrella in a 1920s French nightclub, with Françaix’s wit at its driest.
The most interesting piece in this set, however, is Mozart new-look, described as a small (2:33, here) fantasy on the Serenade from Don Giovanni. It’s a bit more than that. After the expected introduction drawn from the original aria, we suddenly find ourselves hearing the Seguidilla from Carmen. Once it becomes apparent this is actually a second introduction, the Serenade resumes, and Seguidilla motifs are woven around the Don’s serenade in deft three-part counterpoint. Some of Françaix’s usual bag of tricks appear: wrong notes, wrong harmonies, right harmonies that sound wrong only until you realize he’s lurched the music into a new key, sudden ensemble bursts of sound that disappear almost as soon as they appear, etc. Throw in imitative textures, brief canonic entries, and augmentation towards the end of the piece, and the mix of creativity, silliness, and erudition makes for an entertaining work.
That’s roughly a third of the content. Another third comprises middling Françaix works that tend to blend together; for he was a gregarious composer who, as one wit remarked about Poulenc, when having nothing to say, would say it. A final third are wind transcriptions of short pieces by Schubert, Chopin, and Chabrier. Françaix manages these miniatures expertly, but they have nothing more to offer.
The performances are generally strong; and it helps that Klaus Rainer Schöll’s Amadé Wind Ensemble has a fairly nasal, typically French timbre, despite being German in origin. There are occasional moments of ragged ensemble from the Saarbrücken RSO and the Southwest German RSO, as well as one or two moments of extraneous noise, that may point to lack of studio do-over time. The composer’s own 1982 solo piano performances are refined, clear, and bright, but also the only problematic ones from an engineering standpoint—they suffer from an almost complete lack of room ambiance. The rest of the recordings are spacious, and attentive to detail, though occasionally with over-miked soloists.
Fanciers of the composer’s music will want this set for the numerous rarities it includes, transcriptions and all. But a listener seeking a sampler of Françaix would be better served by fine performances featuring Thierry Fischer leading the Ulster Orchestra (Hyperion 67323) in the Scuola di Ballo, Symphony in G, Sérénade, Ouverture anacréontique, and Pavane pour un génie vivant in homage to Ravel.
Concerto for Guitarby Jean Françaix Performer:
Emanuele Segre (Guitar)
Hans Werner Richter
Southwest German Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1982-1983; France
Concertino for Pianoby Jean Françaix Performer:
Jean Françaix (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1932; France
Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute and Stringsby Jean Françaix Performer:
Jean Françaix (Piano)
Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1959; France
Trio for piano & stringsby Jean Françaix Performer:
Johannes Goritzki (Cello),
Saschko Gawriloff (Violin),
Raimund Havenith (Piano)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Francaix lives again.March 20, 2013By L. Catalano (San Francisco, CA)See All My Reviews"When quite young, I heard and played Jean Francaix's Piano Concertino and thought it unique and delightful. Jean's style was childlike, humorous, and unique. I was delighted to get this historic collection of Francaix pieces that probably has never appeared in any other collection. I had the two-piano concerto on lp, but it never was released on cd. What a beautiful concerto it is. I am happy to have gotten this once again now that I gave my lp collection away many years ago. In addition to some of the big Francaix pieces, you have a sampling of many of Francaix's chamber works: small works for woodwind group and how delightful they are. It is a shame that Francaix never made it to the first rank of French composers, but this man certainly wrote some marvelous music that should get the attention it deserves. It was delightful to hear Jean verbally comment on some of his woodwind numbers. This set is a historic delight!!"Report Abuse