`It is impossible to fathom the eccentric depths of French feeling'--(Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, 1898).
Protégée of Wilhelm Kempff in his late Italian years (1970s), Swedish Bis label artist Yukie Nagai here plays with something akin to Kempff's lucid lyricism, architectural vision and temporal-rhythmic precision conveying aerial music of striking sparkle and esprit in this most splendiferous studio-recital of Franck's perfumed Art Nouveau.
Nagai shows shrewd understanding in her unique selection and ordering of pieces for this remarkable session made at the Studio Ansermet of Geneva in 2000.
Steinway's instrument sounds absolutely gorgeous on this marvellously recorded disc of perfect ambience and clarity.
Nagai sagely opens with one of the lesser-heard of Franck's distinctive tripartite works: the Prélude, Aria et Final (E-major, 1887)--(as opposed to the more `popular' Prélude, Choral et Fugue [b-minor, 1884]).
Nagai's performance here bears positive comparison with the luxuriantly Latinate readings of Fiorentino and Ciccolini--and even with the magnanimously effective Cortot.
The Prélude, Aria et Final has been recognized as Franck's veritable `Piano Sonata', and as such is comparable perhaps to those of Dukas and D'Indy.
The plummy and savoury middle-course dish of Nagai's delicious `black' banquet is the b-minor Prélude, Fugue et Variation (1873) in the lesser-known Friedman piano version (approximately contemporaneous with Bauer's well-known piano version of 1910).
The différence is appreciable, making both versions into twin candelabra of subdued luminosity ensconced on Art's altar shrouded in obscure mystery.
Ultimately Nagai returns to the Cortot connection in the Maître's sublime solo-piano version of Franck's amaranthine Sonata for violin (or flute, or cello) with piano.
Franck's late masterwork (A-major, 1886) is so perfect in form and content that one may be compelled to query, `Why on Earth reduce it for piano solo?'--which speaks directly to the point: so that the piece may be performed by a solo pianist, thusly giving the work yet more potential currency while providing performing artists with an additional [solo] `Piano Sonata' from the last quarter of the XIXth Century--of complex depth and fragrant distinction comparable with the near-contemporary Sonatas of Skryabin (viz., g#-minor Sonata of 1886; eb-minor Sonata of 1889).
To those who know and love Franck's Violin Sonata this Piano Sonata version will at first seem odd and perhaps even off-putting; however, repeated auditions will reveal the solo version as an unique work in its own right--(besides the fact of its being a Belle Époque cultural artifact): alert prospectors may discover new gems; and in any case the ecstatic conclusion is utterly irrepressible.
These articles of strange beauty, philosophic reflexivity and elaborate architecture may compel the willing mind towards what Glenn Gould termed, 'a state of wonder'.
Prélude, Aria et Final (1887)
i. 10'23 ii. 06'35 iii. 06'10 Ciccolini (1969)
i. 09'35 ii. 06'39 iii. 07'05 Crossely (1993)
i. 08'08 ii. 05'21 iii. 06'14 Hough (1996)
i. 07'46 ii. 06'33 iii. 06'57 Wass (1998)
i. 09'21 ii. 05'17 iii. 05'23 Rubackyté (2007)
i. 08'33 ii. 05'48 iii. 06'26 Cortot (1929)
i. 11'56 ii. 08'48 iii. 08'29 Fiorentino (1995)
i. 09'44 ii. 05'16 iii. 07'03 Nagai (2000)
Prélude, Fugue et Variation (1873; solo piano version by Bauer or Friedman, 1910)
i. 04'21 ii. 03'15 iii. 03'10--TT: 10'46 Ciccolini (1969)
i. 05'23 ii. 03'07 iii. 04'15--TT: 12'45 Crossely (1993)
-------------------------------TT: 10'57 Frohnmeyer (1999)
i. 04'52 ii. 03'12 iii. 04'06--TT: 12'10 Paley (1994)
i. 05'03 ii. 03'21 iii. 04'09--TT: 12'33 Rubackyté (2007)
i. 04'25 ii. + iii. 09'29------TT: 13'54 Fiorentino (1995)
i. 04'28 ii. 02'41 iii. 04'04--TT: 11'13 Nagai (2000)
Sonata (1886; version for piano solo or piano four-hands by Cortot, 1904)
i. 06'40 ii. 07'40 iii. 07'37 iv. 06'26 Nagai (2000)
i. 07'02 ii. 09'00 iii. 08'32 iv. 07'42 Paley (1994)
i. 05'20 ii. 07'37 iii. 07'02 iv. 05'40 Poskute/Daukantas (2010)