The Poëme symphonique Op 37 is the last of Pierné’s four works for piano and orchestra. The significant year this time is 1903, the year Pierné was appointed as deputy director of the Concerts Colonne. If the earlier works evoke echoes of Massenet, with their easy and infectious charm, the Poëme symphonique shows an affinity with Pierné’s other great teacher, Franck. Written as a single movement rhapsody, its sombre, chromatic harmonies and contrasting themes – the first darkly mysterious, the second consolatory – suggest that Pierné may well have had Franck’s own symphonic poem for piano and orchestra, Les Djinns, in mind. Of course, the two works are in some respects quite different, particularly in Pierné’s triumphal conclusion. However, there are other striking similarities, not least the way the piano part is integrated with the orchestra, making both works truly symphonic. Franck’s work had been commissioned by the ubiquitous Caroline Montigny-Rémaury, though it was finally premiered at the Concerts Colonne in 1885 with Louis Diémer as soloist, and, as a further link, Pierné dedicated his Poëme symphonique to Edouard Risler, Diémer’s famous pupil. This fascinating work ranks alongside Pierné’s most important music, such as his highly successful Piano Trio and complex Piano Quintet – the latter pre-dating by several years that of Fauré. Indeed, it is one of the interesting aspects of Pierné that although his output includes unashamedly lightweight confections – his operas Sophie Arnould and Fragonard, for example – there are numerous works, including the Poëme symphonique, that provide compelling evidence that Pierné was more than a composer of mere trifles.
from notes by Stephen Coombs © 2003