Franck: Symphony in D minor; Chausson: Symphony in B-flat (SACD review)

Marek Janowski, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.  PentaTone Classics SACD 5186 078.

Until PentaTone released this disc, my reference standards for the Franck Symphony were Monteux's and Beecham's early recordings (RCA Living Stereo and EMI), and Dutoit's later digital effort (Decca).  Now, I'm not so sure, even if I still have a slight preference for Monteux.

It's good to hear the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande again, lead by their newest conductor, Marek Janowski.  The two works by Franck and Chausson couldn't suit the orchestra better, considering how well their most-famous conductor, Ernst Ansermet, used to love the French repertoire.  By comparison to Monteux's interpretation of the Franck piece, Janowski's account is almost as magical, if perhaps a bit more lax.  Dutoit, whose performance is also very good, seems more matter of fact, more suavely elegant, but a tad more mundane.  Monteux is the more reposed and more insightful of the conductors cited, whilst retaining plenty of excitement.  Janowski's music making is dramatic, to be sure, swinging from moody to energetic, but Monteux remains that much more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows.

If the Chausson Symphony sounds quite a lot like the Franck Symphony, it's no mere coincidence.  The younger Chausson was a member of Franck's group at the Paris Conservatoire, and he looked up to his mentor, patterning his Symphony on the same three-movement format as Franck's, with the final movement not exactly repeating but reminiscent of the material in the first movement.  If Chausson's Symphony doesn't have quite the charm of Franck's, it isn't for a lack of trying.  And Janowski plays both pieces in a similarly evocative, impressionist style.

As far as sound goes, Dutoit's newer digital recording is probably the most detailed, but this newer, 2006 Janowski recording, also digital and made in Geneva, is pretty good, too.  The disc is a hybrid containing three different audio formats--the first ordinary two-channel stereo, the second SACD two-channel stereo, and third SACD multichannel.  I played the disc in both stereo versions and found little to complain about, except that the overall sound field seemed a little murky at times and somewhat bass-shy, though very smooth throughout.

If you're looking for the best possible interpretation of the Franck, I'd have to say Monteux still reigns supreme.  If it's the best possible stereo sound you're after, Dutoit is your man.  And if it's the best possible multichannel sonics you're looking for, then Janowski rules the day.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa