Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony in d.
Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra
Walter Weller, cond;
Pascal Rogé (pn);
DECCA 480 4864 (77:50)
While a bit of a mish-mash with regards to its contents—Bela Bartók is not exactly someone who comes to mind as an ideal pairing with César Franck, though the participation of Pascal Rogé in both the variations and the rhapsody provides the obvious link—this is a very enjoyable disc. All these recordings date from 1977. In the symphony, Loren Maazel for once dispenses with his sometime tendency to micromanage and manipulate tempi, phrasing, and dynamics, and delivers what he can do at his very considerable best: a taut, lean, unfussy performance that knits this somewhat sprawling and repetitive but sensuous score into a cohesive, compelling narrative. At 38:16 in overall timing it falls in the middle of the interpretive spectrum, and is more relaxed than his 1961 recording for DG with the Berlin Radio Symphony, which clocks in at 36:52. That is a good thing; the finale is still a bit quicker than I would like, but that is a subjective preference. My one reservation is with the recorded sound, which is somewhat dry and lacking in warmth, particularly in the lower register so important to this piece.
I am not the person best equipped to evaluate a performance of the Symphonic Variations, for the simple reason that I find the piece to be a tedious bore. Suffice it to say that Rogé and Maazel seem to be completely
in their rendition of the score. In both Franck works the Cleveland Orchestra plays with its wonted precision.
The Bartók Rhapsody is much more to my taste. One of the composer’s earliest works—curiously, one of three different pieces that he would designate as op. 1—it was composed as a solo piano work in 1904 and then rewritten for piano and orchestra in 1905. At age 24 Bartók was still a late-Romantic in style, rather than the groundbreaking revolutionary he later became, and this piece is thoroughly in the style of Franz Liszt in his most Hungarian mode. That is no bad thing; the Rhapsody is characterful and tuneful, completely engaging and enjoyable, with a piano part bristling with lush chromatic harmonies and numerous technical hurdles. Rogé handles it all with verve and élan, and Walter Weller and the London Symphony provide enthusiastic and stylistically idiomatic support. Both here and in the variations, the sound has greater warmth and more punch in the lower frequencies.
If this coupling of works is to your taste, then by all means buy this disc. For those interested in alternatives, classic recordings of the Franck Symphony include accounts by Thomas Beecham, Paul Paray, and above all Pierre Monteux; an idiosyncratic personal favorite of mine is Leopold Stokowski with the Hilversum Radio Symphony. Robert Casadesus with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra remains a touchstone for the variations. For the much more rarely recorded Bartók, a fine Philips CD with Zoltán Kocsis, Iván Fischer, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra pairs it with Bartók’s even more rarely heard Scherzo for Piano and Orchestra and the Ernö von Dohnányi
Variations on a Nursery Song.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Symphony in D minor, M 48 by César Franck
Written: 1886-1888; France
Date of Recording: 05/1976
Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra, M 46 by César Franck
Pascal Rogé (Piano)
Written: 1885; France
Date of Recording: 05/1976
Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 1/Sz 27 by Béla Bartók
Pascal Rogé (Piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1904; Budapest, Hungary
Date of Recording: 06/1976
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Outstanding Franck, Bartok August 18, 2012
By J. Hinck (Cape Girardeau, MO) See All My Reviews
"There are, of course, many good performances/recordings of this symphony. Origionally released by London as a "full frequency range" recording there is especially good clarity and balance herein. There is just enough reverb to keep it from being too dry, though I agree it could use a bit more depth. Still, I like the bite of the brass and bass violins, the sparkle of the harp, the presence of all the instruments, and the special vitality of this performance. I keep listening, and listening... I've always liked Pascal Roge's performances. Here the Franck "Variations" are delightful, no tedium here. The more serious sounding Bartok "Rhapsody" is poignant and warm. Both, actually all three of these recordings, I feel, are especially engaging"