Photo, Sisi Burn

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

There was a time when (Belgian-French) César Franck’s Symphony in D-minor (1889) was everywhere, not least in record catalogues conducted by, among others, and sometimes more than once, Ansermet, Barbirolli, Beecham, Bernstein, Boult, Furtwängler (, Giulini, Karajan, Klemperer, Maazel, Masur, Monteux, Munch, Paray, Plasson, Silvestri, Stokowski and Toscanini, supplemented by off-air tapings from such as Celibidache and Szell.

However, Franck’s Symphony seems to be creeping back into the regular repertoire – recent recordings include Mikko Franck,, Marc Minkowski conducts it on YouTube, and Leonard Slatkin has been embracing it. Fabien Gabel led a flexible account of this Symphony’s three-movement, imaginative cyclical design and durable ideas, bringing out suspense, tenderness, soulfulness, power and passion – all elements found in the first movement, which Gabel conducted with conviction, drawing impressive playing from the BBCSO, dynamic and well-balanced. The second movement, with harp and cor anglais, was songful and heartfelt, the introduction of the quicker gossamer material made entirely natural (correspondences with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Winter Daydreams’ Symphony unexpectedly apparent); and the Finale was virile if subjected to too much leeway giving the impression that Franck was unsure of direction (also unexpected), yet the music lived and breathed, if going this way and that, and reached a momentous conclusion suitably detailed, not least the bringing-out of the snaking cornet line. Recorded performance timings vary between thirty-three and forty-seven minutes; Gabel landed about midway and in a highly personal way.

The overture to Lalo’s opera Le roi d’Ys (1888) opened the concert, somewhat ominously if expressively, before entering dramatic mode, addressed with theatrical tension by the BBCSO galvanised by Gabel, music overall of varied characterisations – and it could be that following twelve enjoyable minutes and an electrifying coda that the opera itself may already have been heard!

Then Daniel Lozakovich played Brahms’s Violin Concerto, introduced by Gabel in weighty, sonorous and spacious terms, with Lozakovich’s first entry being confident and trenchant, then confiding if not unduly sweet in lyrical passages, rough-hewn in vigorous ones, an intent carried into Joachim’s cadenza. The slow movement, initiated by a blissful oboe solo, found Lozakovich intimately expressive if slightly thin-toned in the highest register (he’d had a few scrunchy moments in the first movement) and, ideally, it should have been straight into the Finale, but the gap was long, and those not able to mind it clapped to break the mood, and when the music resumed it was too fast as certain adjustments testified to, although there was plenty of bravura on display. Even more so in Nathan Milstein’s Paganiniana, beginning with the Twenty-Fourth Caprice, the one that has served Brahms, Blacher, Lutosławski, Rachmaninov, and many other composers, so well.

Daniel Lozakovich records Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Munich with Valery Gergiev for Deutsche Grammophon.

Milstein plays his Paganiniana; undated performance.