César Franck: Les oeuvres pour piano. Patrick Dheur, piano. © 2022 Stradivarius

CD Spotlight

A Commanding Technique

GERALD FENECH listens to Patrick Dheur playing piano music by César Franck

'A fine and fitting tribute to one of the most original composers ever to come out of Belgium ...'


César Franck was born on 12 December 1822 in Liège, Belgium, son of a Belgian father and German mother. His musical talent was fostered at an early age, and, managed by an ambitious father, he undertook his first concert tour at the age of twelve. In spite of his outstanding talent, that same year he was refused entry to the Paris Conservatoire, as he lacked French citizenship. He took private lessons in composition with Anton Reicha, the teacher of Liszt and Berlioz, and in piano with Pierre Zimmermann, the teacher of Bizet and Gounod. Two years later and now a French citizen, he continued his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, including organ and improvisation courses, and worked also as an accompanist in the vocal class of tenor Marco Bordogni, which inspired him to write his first opera, Stradella, at the age of fifteen.

After graduating with honours from the Conservatoire, the future composer earned his living as a soloist, chamber musician, composer, teacher and accompanist. He was supported by Franz Liszt, who made him his successor as 'demonstrator' at the Pape piano factory, enabling him not only to become acquainted with the latest achievements in piano manufacturing, but also to fall in love with the instrument. Indeed, the piano features prominently in Franck's compositional career, and although not many in number, the pieces he wrote for the instrument are held in high regard. A brilliant pianist and improviser to the end, he was exceptionally modest, unfailingly amicable, unorthodox in his teaching methods and open to new developments.

César Franck wrote his piano works in two periods, an early one lasting some five years (1843-48), and a late one which lasted much longer - fourteeen years, to be exact (1873-87). Although his early works do not possess the harmonic complexity of his later ones, they were, nonetheless, highly praised by Berlioz, and many critics consider them as possessing many characteristics of his later style: the use of all registers and their colours, organ imitation, a hugely contrasting dynamic range and the frequent use of syncopation in the melody, among other features.

This exquisite compilation is a prime example of Franck's stature as a piano composer. From the early works, the choice has fallen on the Grande Sonate, Op 10 (1835 and unpublished), the Eglogue (1842), the Grand Caprice (1843), the Ballad (1844) and Trois petits riens (1846 and also unpublished). These pieces from his early piano output were selected on the grounds that they reflect that somewhat neglected period of his life.

Listen — Franck: Eglogue (Hirten Gedicht) Op 3
(STR 37222 CD1 track 6, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2022 Stradivarius :

The mature style of the master is shown in his four most important piano works which are all included in this programme. The Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (1884), Les Djinns for Piano and Orchestra (1884), the Symphonic Variations (1885) and the Prélude, Aria and Finale (1886) are indeed keyboard masterpieces that can stand alone among the many compositions that were being written during that time.

Listen — Franck: Prélude, Aria and Finale
(STR 37222 CD3 track 3, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2022 Stradivarius :

This album also includes two short pieces, Plaintes d'une Poupee (1865) and Danse lente (1885), both written for special occasions. Though they are both simple in style and technique, they show nonetheless the unmistakeable stamp of Franckian melody.

Listen — Franck: Danse lente
(STR 37222 CD2 track 23, 0:00-0:43) ℗ 2022 Stradivarius :

Franck's piano repertoire demands passionate dexterity and an almost unattainable range. Indeed, he was capable of spanning twelve white keys on the keyboard, but Patrick Dheur overcomes these challenges with unique skill and a commanding technique that make him the ideal interpreter of this very special composer who was born two hundred years ago. A fine and fitting tribute to one of the most original composers ever to come out of Belgium, in beautiful sound quality and attractive presentation.

Copyright © 18 August 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta






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