Franck: Symphony in D minor; Chausson: Symphony in B-flat (SACD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.