Franck: Symphony in D minor (CD review)

Also, Lalo: Symphony in G minor; Faure: Pavane. Sir Thomas Beecham, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Francaise. EMI 7243-5-62949-2.

Until the rerelease of this disc, my reference standard for French composer Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor was Monteux's recording from 1961 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA Living Stereo) and before that (because Monteux's old recording had long been unavailable on CD) Dutoit's digital recording with the Montreal Symphony (Decca). I have to admit that it had been many years since I had heard Beecham's 1959 rendering, and I had quite forgotten how good it was. But I have to stand by the conviction that Monteux still rules the day.

By comparison to Monteux's authoritative interpretation, Beecham's account sounds a tad more wayward in matters of pacing and a bit less magical overall, even if it is still quite fluid and graceful. Dutoit, whose performance is also very good, seems more matter of fact than either Monteux or Beecham, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane. Monteux is the more reposed and more insightful of the three, whilst retaining plenty of excitement. Although timings are much the same in all three accounts, Monteux seems more meaningful for his better gauged lingerings and pauses. The music is just as dramatic in all three versions, swinging from moody to energetic, but Monteux is 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.

In terms of sound, Dutoit's newer digital recording is admittedly the most detailed, but it is really no more lifelike than the other two. Where Dutoit's recording comes into its own is in filling out the center of the orchestral field better, the RCA being slightly more prominent in the left and right channels. The Beecham EMI recording, on the other hand, sounds nicely balanced left to right, with good dynamics, but it is also a little brighter through the lower treble while being a touch muted in the upper highs. The result is that the Beecham sounds very slightly harsher, overall, than the other two.

One's final decision may rest with the couplings. EMI add Beecham's account of Edouard Lalo's Symphony in G minor, an oddly neglected work presented here with great sympathy and understanding in a heartfelt rendition that brings out all the pathos, melancholy, vigor, and charm of the piece. Although Lalo's Symphony is perhaps not the epitome of Western symphonic art, it has its moments, especially in its vivid finale. Beecham championed the work all his life, but it never caught on. Also on the Beecham disc you'll find Gabriel Faure's little Pavane, exquisitely molded. However, Monteux's disc has his enchanting interpretation of Stravinsky's Petrouchka on it, so it doesn't make decisions easy.  Fortunately, both the Beecham and Monteux discs come at a mid price, so maybe having both of them in one's collection isn't a bad idea.


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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