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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66918
Recording details: July 1996
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 1997
Total duration: 18 minutes 22 seconds

'Wonderfully played … marvellous sound. This is a first-rate issue in every respect … only the most exalted comparisons will do for Stephen Hough's latest disc, and even they are struggling to compete. Hough has a dream-ticket combination of virtues—astonishing agility, a faultless ear for texture, fine-tuned stylistic sensibility and an exceptional understanding of harmonic and structural tensions. [His] recent Hyperion issues have given him a lot to live up to. This recital triumphantly does that' (Gramophone)

'It is hard to imagine better performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Must take pride of place among recordings of this repertoire. A most distinguished record in every way' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

‘Hough at his magical best’ (Classic FM Magazine)

'Superb performances … Style, elegance, and a power that is awe-inspiring when unleashed. César Franck has never been better served' (Classic CD)

'A superb production!' (Fanfare, USA)

'Playing of exquisite poise, intrepid technical brilliance and extraordinary insight. A peach of an issue' (Hi-Fi News)

'Un des pianistes les plus virtuoses au monde à ce jour, non seulement dans la vitesse et le prestesse, mais surtout dans l'imagination et la qualité sonore. Avec une telle maîtrise du clavier et des timbres, une telle lisibilité polyphonique, une telle intelligence du texte, Hough va à mon sens plus loin que bien d'autres pianistes, même les plus valeureux dans la compréhension profonde de cette musique' (Répertoire, France)

Prélude, Choral et Fugue, M21
composer
1884

Fugue: Tempo I  [6'54]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Franck’s original plan, according to his pupil Vincent d’Indy, was to write a plain Prelude and Fugue, the venerable form made immortal by Bach and neglected since Mendelssohn, a visibly serious alternative to the plethora of virtuoso pieces which were so popular at the time. After almost forty years writing mainly organ music and works inspired by sacred texts, the example of Bach was an affirmation that secular music could still retain a spiritual identity in an abstract form. In fact it is significant that the further Franck moved away from specifically sacred music (his liturgical works are particularly lifeless) the clearer and more pure his spiritual vision seemed to become.

The decision to include a central section, separate from, yet linking, the Prelude and Fugue, came later (again according to d’Indy). Perhaps Bach was the influence with the poignant slow interludes of his Clavier Toccatas to say nothing of the very word ‘chorale’ which was eventually used. In the event, however, this central section became the emotional core of the work, its ‘motto’ theme (Example 2) used as a symbol of redemption and as a unifying principle at the climax of the Fugue.

When Saint-Saëns made his tart observation about the piece that the ‘chorale is not a chorale and the fugue is not a fugue’ (in his pamphlet ‘Les Idées de M. Vincent d’Indy’), he was completely missing the point. The forms here have become symbolic, the apotheosis of their academic counterparts; and, furthermore, Alfred Cortot described the Fugue in the context of the whole work as ‘emanating from a psychological necessity rather than from a principle of musical composition’ (La musique française de piano; PUF, 1930). It is as if a ‘fugue’, as a symbol of intellectual rigour, was the only way Franck could find a voice to express fully the hesitant, truncated sobs of the Prelude and the anguished, syncopated lament of the Chorale. Not that the Fugue solves the problem—this is the function of the ‘motto’ theme; but the rules of counterpoint have given the speaker a format in which the unspeakable can be spoken.

There are two motivic ideas on which the whole work is based: one, a falling, appoggiatura motif used in all three sections and generally chromatic in tonality (Example 1); the other a criss-crossing motif in fourths (the ‘motto’ theme, Example 2) which appears first in the Chorale section and then again as a balm at the point where the Fugue reaches its emotional crisis. The first motivic idea is clearly related to the Bach Cantata ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’, and also to the ‘Crucifixus’ from the B minor Mass; the other idea appears as the ‘bell motif’ in Wagner’s Parsifal.

from notes by Stephen Hough © 1997

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