Franck: 'Quintet in F Minor'; Liszt: 'Harmonies Poetiques et Religeuses'; Sviatoslav Richter and The Borodin Quartet; Philips. A smattering of recent releases gives a taste of styles ranging from blues, folk, musical theater, classical, rap, and rock. The writers share 11 compact discs they find noteworthy.
There was a time, well into the 1960s, that Cesar Franck's music was readily available on records and in the concert halls. Today, performances are rarer, and this superb reading of the quintet is sure to win new friends for this composer's works.The Belgian-born Franck was a mild-mannered professorial type, who spent his most musically fertile years as organist of Ste. Clotilde and as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory, where he had a major effect on an entire generation of French composers. Yet his works were not well received in Paris, where the musical style favored a certain shallowness of emotional content, a glossy surface masking a triviality of musical utterance. At the premiere of the quintet, Franck came up to congratulate the composer Camille Saint-Saens, who had played the piano part, and to present him with the manuscript; Saint-Saens curtly turned on his heel and walked away. He had hated every moment of the work, appalled by the searing emotional impact and by the structure of thematic unification or cyclical composition. Richter and the Borodin Quartet take the passion and drama to dizzying heights. This is a searing account of the work, exploring the darker side of the music. And in the quieter moments there is a sense of other worldly, spiritual quest. The recording, which dates from 1981, is adequate, and at least the balances between string players and piano is captured. The remaining pieces on the program are three of the more mysterious, and less familiar, pieces by Liszt, another composer who settled in France and had great influence there. Liszt stretched the expressive boundaries of the keyboard, and of music in general. In these pieces, he has created moods of great turmoil followed by ones of darkly meditative mystery. The virtuosity is made to serve a musical end rather than just the pianist's glory. Richter is in splendid form in the three Liszt pieces taped in 1984.