The Grand Caprice
(called ‘Premier Grand Caprice’ in d’Indy’s edition, although Franck never wrote a second such piece) takes us back forty years to 1843 and to Franck’s youthful period in the salons of Paris. It is clearly the best of his early piano pieces although, in an uncharacteristically critical moment, d’Indy writes that ‘it addresses itself chiefly to lovers of virtuosity’. Cortot is more perceptive, seeing it as ‘the most individual’ of the early piano works, and it has some moments of genuine inspiration, particularly an early use of thematic transformation where the jaunty 6/8 prestissimo G flat major theme becomes the pulsating, pianissimo C sharp minor theme of the central section, with its swirls of impossibly awkward left-hand arpeggios. (If Franck’s hand had been an inch smaller, most of the technical problems in his keyboard works would not exist!) There is the clear shadow of Liszt hovering over the piece, not surprisingly; but Alkan’s chunky orchestral textures are there too, and even a prophetic hint of the Brahms F sharp minor Sonata, to be written ten years later.
from notes by Stephen Hough © 1997