Cesar Franck's Symphony in D-minor goes in and out of favor in the concert halls but seems a sturdy hit in the record industry. Since its first appearance, the classic performance of the D-minor has been that of Pierre Monteux and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on RCA records. The company has just reprocessed the performance on its handsome ''.5 Series'' (RCA ATL1-4156), giving a new lease on life to a truly legendary performance.
Monteux's unfussy approach to the score always stressed balanced textures and never resorted to blustery musical gestures. Refinement was always a trademark of his style. He did not shy away from dramatic peaks, but he rarely made them into hysterical outbursts, because he knew as few did the meaning and value of restraint. In short, this D-minor is a quintessential Monteux performance.
As in most of the other ''.5 Series'' issues, a certain amount of sheer brilliance has been sacrificed to the dramatic reduction of tape hiss and other sorts of non-vinyl-related noises that intruded on the earlier version of the release. Given the nearly catastrophic state of the record-pressings in the United States, the care RCA has shown on all its audiophile series has been welcome. (My pressing of the Franck was made at the Teldec plant in West Germany , still the finest record-pressing plant in the Western world.)
The year has not been inactive as far as the Franck is concerned. Four new recordings of it have emerged, all with something interesting to offer. Riccardo Muti offers his finest recording to date in this music (Angel Digital DS-37889) - an attentive performance that delineates the cyclical nature of the thematic material, that handsomely captures the music's primordial ebb and flow, yet keeps a certain lightness to texture that is the hallmark of the Monteux performance. Yet there is more passion than I am used to hearing in a Muti reading, and less shallow blustering.
Leonard Bernstein's account on DG (Digital 2532 050) with the Orchestre National de France, is emotive and somewhat indulgent. He clearly loves the score and finds great quantities of brooding drama in it, but somehow does not make his views fit into an altogether convincing whole. The Saint-Saens ''Rouet d'Omphale'' which serves as filler is given a propulsive reading, but overall this is not one of Mr. Bernstein's better recorded performances.
Philips Records has been honoring the late Kirill Kondrashin in a series of recording-from-concert releases that includes the D-minor with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Digital 6514 119). This is one of the best readings from the emotive school of interpretation, where the conductor rides every climax to the breaking point, exploits the inherent volatility, and otherwise pushes the piece into a somewhat distorted perspective.
It certainly is exciting, rafter-raising musicmaking, and this Kondrashin performance will find a comfortable place in my collection between the Monteux and the Karajan/Orchestre de Paris performance (Angel S-36729) which makes an unusually convincing case for a decidedly dark, Brucknerian view of the music.
Finally, there is a new release from the Vanguard Audiophile series (VA-25016 ) with Sergiu Comissiona conducting the Houston Symphony. It is a typically sane , well-reasoned, expertly detailed, subtly phrased Comissiona account, with the Houston Symphony in fine form. The sound is impressive, the pressings unusually quiet for an American product.