EDUARD FRANCK: Der römische Carneval, Op. 21; Konzerstück for Violin and Orchestra; Fantasie for Orchestra, Op. 16; Concert Overture for Large Orchestra, Op. 12 – Christiane Edinger, v./ Württemberg Philharmonic Reutlingen/ Ola Rudner – Audite 97.686 [Distr. by Naxos], 61:09 ***1/2:
Eduard Franck (1817-1893) is one of those composer names I’ve run into from time to time without ever making his acquaintance via his music. Until recently, that was understandable because Franck’s compositions rarely if ever turned up on recordings. However, the German label Audite has been righting this presumptive wrong of late, releasing performances of both Franck’s chamber music, supposedly his strong suit, and orchestral music, including two violin concerti and two symphonies. It’s high time I caught up.
Franck was born into a well-to-do Prussian family that encouraged intellectual and artistic pursuits, so it seems natural he should have become a private student of Felix Mendelssohn, with his similar family background. Like Mendelssohn and his Leipzig colleagues and students, Franck was a musical conservative, a transitional figure between Mendelssohn and Schumann on the one hand and Bruch and Brahms on the other. His two symphonies, written in the late 1850s, are reported to have a little more Schumannesque daring to them than do the orchestral works on this current disc. All of them appeared in the 1840s and sound pretty much like the safer music of that era; I’m reminded a bit of Otto Nicolai and early Wagner—not a lot, I must say, of Mendelssohn or Schumann. This is very much a young man’s music: bright, optimistic, lightweight in content and texture. The orchestration does have Mendelssohn’s transparency and Classical poise, so I guess Franck’s time under the older composer’s tutelage was well spent.
The most ambitions piece on the program is the Fantasie for Orchestra, a thirty-minute piece that, as the name implies, has programmatic overtones though there is no stated program. If Franck had chosen to call it a symphony (or, following Schumann’s lead, Overture, Minuet, and Finale), he would probably have invited less criticism than he received from music journalist Theodor Uhlig, a friend and proponent of Wagner. Uhlig took Franck to task for spiffing-up his three-movement symphony with the title Fantasie, when only a “‘Programme in Words’ of a fairly elaborate degree” could save it from the empty formalism of absolute music.
Even more damning was journalist Franz Brendel’s report on a performance of Franck’s Der römische Carneval, which prompted invidious comparisons with Berlioz’s overture of the same name (except rendered in French: Le carnaval romain). Brendel’s point is well taken; if you expect anything like the color and dash of Berlioz’s great piece, get ready to be sorely disappointed in Franck’s tame treatment of the theme. Where Berlioz uses a dazzling assortment of percussion, Franck contents himself with a triangle, which barely registers. Franck is on safer ground in his Concert Overture, Op. 12, which has more inherent drama than Der römische Carneval and doesn’t risk the problems raised by attaching an implied program to the music. The concert overture is a form with a respected pedigree, leading examples coming from Weber and Mendelssohn among others, though it would soon be eclipsed by the symphonic poem. (Czech composer Jan Kalivoda, whose symphonies Schumann admired, wrote no fewer than twelve concert overtures.) Franck’s overture seems to me the strongest work on the program, though there’s some compelling music in the finale of the Fantasie as well.
The fourteen-minute Konzertstück for Violin and Orchestra doesn’t make a grand statement, and like all such works, it seems a dry-run for a composer bent on someday writing a full-fledged concerto. Like most works on this scale, even popular ones such as Saint-Saens’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, it has no chance of being heard today in the concert hall, so it’s nice to have on disc.
Overall, despite the fine advocacy of Christiane Edinger, Ola Rudner, and the Württembergers, this early music of Eduard Franck doesn’t make a strong impression and can be considered more an addendum to other recordings in this series than as a showcase for Franck’s artistry.
An excellent survey of a favorite Chopin genre…