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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67817
Recording details: July 2010
BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Phil Rowlands
Release date: November 2011
Total duration: 22 minutes 21 seconds

'All three works are far more than vapid virtuoso showpieces, though all contain their share of thundering octaves and brilliant virtuoso display … Hyperion opts for a more transparent sound picture and slightly clearer woodwind and brass details, matched by Becker's lighter, sparkling touch; they have the better booklet (Nigel Simeone)—and, of course, if you are collecting their Romantic Piano Concerto series it will be de facto the first choice' (Gramophone)

Fantaisie in A flat major, Op 62
1889; dedicated to Isidore Philipp who gave the first performance at the Concerts Colonne on 23 February 1889, Widor conducting

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The genre of the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra would soon become something of a French speciality: Debussy’s Fantaisie was written in 1889–90, Saint-Saëns’s Africa (subtitled Fantaisie) dates from 1891, and later examples were composed by Benjamin Godard (Fantaisie persane, 1894), Max d’Ollone (1897), Marcel Dupré (1908) and Fauré (1919). Widor’s Fantaisie was among the first of these, and a prominent dedication appears on the title page of the published score: ‘A Monsieur I. Philipp’. The dedicatee became an enthusiastic apostle for the work, describing it as ‘serene and noble’ as well as showing his ‘unfailing good taste’. Philipp played the Fantaisie for the first time at the Concerts Colonne on 23 February 1889, with Widor conducting. They took it to London the following year for a concert of the Philharmonic Society on 13 March 1890 when, according to Philipp himself, it was ‘particularly well received’. A review appeared in The Times on 14 March, praising Philipp’s performance in particular:

[The Fantaisie] was conducted by the composer, the solo part being exquisitely played by a French pianist, M. Philipp, whose singularly beautiful touch and perfect technical equipment aroused unqualified admiration. The work is something more than merely a brilliant and effective piece, since, like all M. Widor’s compositions, it has earnestness of purpose, great originality and no small amount of melodic beauty. Nor is all, or even the greater part of, the musical interest given to the solo part.

Though Widor was careful to keep his distance from the bickerings of César Franck’s supporters and detractors, there is a strong Franckiste strain in this work. The most memorable feature of the Fantaisie is the melody first heard pianissimo on strings at the opening, coloured by arpeggiated piano chords. This theme has both the harmonic mobility and the melodic obstinacy of Franck, sliding effortlessly (and sometimes surprisingly) from one key to another but often centred on notes that are repeated. A more rhythmically animated second idea also enjoys its fair share of imaginative transformation as the work progresses, but Widor’s treatment of the initial motto theme finds him at his most consistently inventive, presenting it towards the close with almost Lisztian ingenuity: as a tender oboe melody over harp-like piano figurations, triumphant and aspirational (complete with cymbal crashes), and recalled in tranquillity by the piano, before the dash to the close.

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2011

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