There was a time when César Franck’s Symphony in D-minor had a regularly increasing discography – including by Ansermet, Barbirolli, Berglund, Bernstein, Boult, Giulini, Karajan, Klemperer, Maazel, Monteux, Munch and Ormandy, to name but twelve luminaries (fourteen if you count concert performances featuring Celibidache and Szell released posthumously).
Studio interest in this splendid three-movement creation has waned in recent years and there have also been fewer appearances in the concert-hall for it: over a decade London has only witnessed check-ins from Thomas Adès (also in Boston), Christian Mandeal and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and I am aware of Muti in Chicago and Slatkin in Lyon making a case for this ingenious and cyclical work; I like to think that other conductors have stepped forward to champion the César cause.
Finnish maestro Mikko Franck leads an excellent reading of his namesake’s Symphony (different pronunciations needed though, speaking frankly) by the composer born in Liège in 1822 and who died in 1890, now a French citizen, in Paris, celebrated as pianist, organist and Conservatoire teacher, the conductor attuned to the music’s soul, ardency, delicacy and grandeur without undermining architecture, connections or direction.
Distinguished playing and lucid reproduction also illuminate Ce qu’on entend sur la montagne (What one hears on the mountain) based on Victor Hugo’s poem and with strong claims to Franck’s being the first Symphonic Poem, beating Liszt to the genre, although the latter also essayed his own take on the Hugo. Sustaining its half-hour length with atmospheric writing and imaginative scoring, César Franck’s piece is inventive and benefits from this committed and sensitive account of it. Alpha Classics 561.