César Franck: Piano Quintet in F Minor, FWV 7 – Violin Sonata in A Major, FWV 8 – Philippe Entremont – Dan Zhu – Aron Quartett
César FRANCK: Piano Quintet in F Minor, FWV 7: I. Molto moderato quasi lento – Allegro – II. Lento con molto sentimento – III. Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco – Violin Sonata in A Major, FWV 8: I. Allegro ben moderato – II. Allegro – III. Recitativo – Fantasia. Ben moderato – IV. Allegretto poco mosso.
Philippe Entremont, Piano – Dan Zhu, Violin – Aron Quartett
The new ways of French chamber music.
During the last ten years of his life, Franck brought the principle of cyclical form that he had created to its climax. The perfect circle of a construction that leaves no theme on the side of the road but includes them all in a single line, which claims a little eternity. But Franck had not found the idea of the cycle ex abrupto. As an organist by training, his association with Bach had opened the way to this principle, which he was to rationalize to some extent.
The great Quintet for piano and strings, which he completed in 1880, is the direct relative of the monumental oratorio, The Beatitudes, which occupied him for four years, from 1875 to 1879. An important fact. Franck composed again for the piano after a forty-year hiatus, the instrument that was dearest to him and of which he was a considerable virtuoso, as Marmontel points out. One of the Quintet’s claims to fame is that it brought Franck back to the piano: the path was, from then on, clear for the sonata in disguise that would become Prelude Chorale and Fugue. Franck tightens the thematic material and gives the three movements a common motif. The second subject, almost feminine and yet ardent, stated by the violin in the key of A flat major, reappears in the middle section of the second movement (D flat), and then introduces the coda of the Finale. We are closer, in fact, to an obsessive idea – as in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique – than to a Wagnerian leitmotif. But Franck also unifies the work beyond this theme, a motto that is self-perpetuating by bringing together between the movements a number of secondary motives that evolve tonally, to the point that one finds oneself caught in a tapestry of sounds with barely deviating colors. The premiere given by the Marsick Quartet and Saint-Saëns for the Société Nationale in Paris on January 17, 1880, was a great success and the occasion of an additional vexation for Franck, who was no longer so close. Enthused by Saint-Saëns’ performance, Franck offered him the work in dedication. In response, Saint-Saëns grimaced and turned away. He was paying with this public affront the effect of a quarrel between his major disciple, Vincent d’Indy, who had wanted to program works by Wagner during a concert of the Société Nationale, and Saint-Saëns who had refused outright.
Years earlier, when Cosima Wagner had enjoyed some of his melodies, Franck had promised to dedicate a violin sonata to her, a promise that was soon forgotten. But the idea of a sonata for bow was to become a reality thanks to Eugène Ysaye, whom Vieuxtemps introduced to Franck during the Belgian virtuoso’s first stay in Paris in 1876. Franck was captivated by the virtuosity and, perhaps even more, by the charisma of the man. But it was a concert given in 1884 at Colonne’s that launched Franck into the Sonata project. Ysaye’s talent was visibly metamorphosing, the artist was shedding the glitter of the virtuoso, the musician was imposing himself beyond the violinist. A chamber music composition was thus possible. Moreover, a general movement in favor of chamber music was at last beginning among French composers: Saint-Saëns himself, who had made the violin shine in all its charms with his concertos, gave on April 3, 1886 a first Sonata for violin and piano created by another Belgian virtuoso, Martin Marsick. Franck took the fly and during the following summer, from his resort of Combs-la-Ville-Quincy, wrote with surprising speed his famous Sonata which was to inspire a whole theory of sister works: Lekeu, Vierne, Lazzari, Ropartz, Samazeuil will compose Sonatas “after” Franck’s. Three weeks for a masterpiece that will not even be retouched, except for a tempo indication. At the first performance on December 16, 1886, at the Cercle artistique et littéraire in Brussels, the lights went out and Ysaye played the initial movement from memory, but in a much faster tempo than that noted by the composer. Franck was charmed by this alert bow, noting allegretto on the score. With his usual tact. Franck offered the Sonata to Ysaye as a wedding present. The virtuoso received it on his wedding day in Arlon, on the Belgian-Luxembourg border, on September 28, 1886: a gift from a Liège composer to a Liège violinist. Much has been said about the cyclical structure of the Sonata. Its system will inspire many others. However, it is forgotten that Franck first composed it as a piano sonata with violin accompaniment, somewhat in the style of the old French sonatas of the Baroque era. In fact, the entire piano part was composed in one stroke, in the same ink, and it seems that Franck only laid down the violin line at a later stage. This can be heard in the very recitative style of the soloist, who is emancipated from the piano, playing, as it were, beside it. Nothing less was needed to do justice to Ysaye’s telling bow.
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