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Cello Sonata in A major, M8

'Franck & Rachmaninov: Cello Sonatas' (CDA67376)
Franck & Rachmaninov: Cello Sonatas
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Movement 1: Allegretto ben moderato
Movement 2: Allegro
Movement 3: Recitativo – Fantasia: Ben moderato – Molto lento
Movement 4: Allegretto poco mosso

Cello Sonata in A major, M8
César Franck’s Sonata, dating from 1886, is a ‘voyage of the soul’; One suspects that personal reasons may have been involved. César Franck was not only a devoted teacher, but also a dutiful husband to a wife whose religion seems to have been more strict than loving. However, morally upright though he undoubtedly was for most of his life, there is reason to believe the rumour—still floating around after 125 years or so—that he fell in love with his dashing Irish student Augusta Holmès (also beloved of Saint-Saëns, Liszt and many others). The chamber work preceding the sonata by some years, Franck’s Piano Quintet, which marked a dramatic departure in musical style for the erstwhile rather demure composer, seems to have had a strong connection with this romance. It was probably not entirely a coincidence that Saint-Saëns behaved appallingly at the première, and that Mrs Franck yelled abuse at her husband’s students for allowing Franck to compose such ‘abhorrent’ music! The Sonata is altogether a more refined work than the quintet, its passion more radiant; but here too one can feel a conflict between the worldly and the sacred. This is expressed in terms of musical intervals, with the minor and major third (generally considered the most expressive intervals in music) tussling for supremacy; this struggle remains unresolved until after the appearance halfway through the Recitativo/Fantasia of a shining theme dominated by the ‘pure’ intervals of the fourth and fifth. As with Rachmaninov’s sonata, the last movement is joyous, bells pealing to mark the conclusion to the conflict, in which the sacred appears to have triumphed. (Or perhaps not: a story is told that one student of Franck’s was describing the master as a mystic. Another raised his eyebrows: ‘A mystic, eh? Go and ask Augusta!’ We will never know. At any rate, the end of the sonata is unmistakably triumphant!)

(A footnote: why play this sonata on the cello? Well, there is some justification. Oral history has it that it was originally conceived as a cello sonata, Franck only changing his mind when he decided to present the sonata to his great friend and ‘ideal interpreter’, the violinist Ysaÿe, as a wedding present. Furthermore, the second edition of the sonata, published well within Franck’s lifetime—in fact, a copy exists with a personal dedication by Franck—describes the sonata as being for violin or cello. So it is not really an arrangement, more of an alternate version.)

from notes by Steven Isserlis © 2003

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Details for CDA67376 track 11
Allegretto poco mosso
Recording date
25 August 2002
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Nicholas Parker
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch
Hyperion usage
  1. Franck & Rachmaninov: Cello Sonatas (CDA67376)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: May 2003
1.Audio tour Castel Sismondo, Rimini, Italy: Parigi: gli anni meravigliosi
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