[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