César Franck – Rédemption, Nocturne, Le Chasseur Maudit, Psyché, Les Éolies
with Christa Ludwig, mezzosoprano (Nocturne)
Rédemption, Nocturne, Le Chasseur Maudit, Psyché:
Orchestre de Paris
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Ernest Ansermet, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 1998
The symphonic poem enjoyed throughout Europe a short but prosperous season between the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century and in France it found some of its major representatives in the figures of Camille Saint-Saëns (Danse macabre and La jeunesse d’Hercule) and Henry Duparc who, with Lénore, introduced Wagnerian harmony into French music, but a tradition of illustrative music existed in France since the times of Berlioz.
After the composition of an orchestral piece on Hugo’s Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne in 1845-7, César Franck returned to the symphonic poem in 1875-6 and the first fruit was Les Eolides, based on Leconte de Lisle’s poem, describing the flight of the breezes, daughters of Aeolus, over the southern lands. To this first attempt, many more followed and Franck wrote Le chasseur maudit in 1882 after a ballad by G. A. Bürger, Les Djinns (1884), inspired by a poem by Hugo, and the second part of Psyché (1887–8). He also applied the expression symphonic poem to Rédemption, a work that was originally conceived as an oratorio for chorus, soloist, speaker and orchestra and divided into two parts, soon replaced by the morceau symphonique. Curiously, only Les Eolides and Le chasseur maudit were conceived for orchestra alone and Les Djinns, Psyché and Rédemption use chorus.
This recording collects four symphonic poems by Franck: Rédemption, Le chasseur maudit, Psyché and Les Eolies with the addition of the song Nocturne, composed in 1884 and orchestrated by Guy Ropartz. Ernest Ansermet and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande perform Les Eolies, while Daniel Barenboim and the Orchestre de Paris are entrusted with the remaining works.
Rédemption is performed in a way that gives prominence to its spiritual character and the entire work tends to the realization of the high ideals suggested by suggested by the hopeful redemption of mankind that constitutes its programme. Its relaxed time gives the chance to guess all the nuances and hints with precision, something that the piece has in common with the next one, the song Nocturne. The most significant aspect of Nocturne is anyway the performance of Christa Ludwig that with her authoritativeness and vocal command moves the attention even from Barenboim’s exquisite orchestral accompaniment. Ludwig’s rich timbre and harmonics allow her to describe feelings with easiness, so that Nocturne becomes an extremely evocative work with something contemplative in it.
Le chausser maudit is different from everything listened until now and replaces the refinement of the two previous works with the pressing rhythm of the sacrilegious hunting that Barenboim carefully stresses from the beginning, so that the tragic continuation is not only foreseeable, but in a certain sense inevitable, as the resolute conduction reaffirms. After this excursus into the demonic world of the wicked hero, Barenboim approaches Psyché in a way that makes unmistakably clear the Wagnerian influence on the piece, performed as the description of a deep but mainly spiritual love. As for Les Eolies, Ansermet performs it with great lyricism, revealing immediately its literary background.