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CD Review

Jean Françaix

The Music for Solo Piano, Duo and Duet

  • Scherzo
  • Cinq portraits de jeunes filles
  • Eloge de la danse
  • Piano Sonata
  • Cinq "BIS"
  • Danse des Trois Arlequins
  • Huit Variations sur le nom de Johannes Gutenberg
  • Nocturne
  • Huit danses exotiques *
  • Portraits d'enfants d'Auguste Renoir **
  • Trois esquisses sur les touches blanches
  • La Promenade d'un Musicologue Eclectique
  • De la Musique avant tout chose
  • Pour Jacqueline
  • Si Versailles m'était conté…
  • Napoléon **
  • Scuola di Ballo *
Martin Jones, piano
* Richard McMahon, piano
** Adrian Farmer, piano
Nimbus NI5880 3CDs 191min
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Jean Françaix (1912-1997) was born into a musical family. Indeed his father was a composer and pianist, his mother a singing teacher. He was a precocious child whose talents came to the attention of Maurice Ravel, and it was this great composer who encouraged Jean's father to lead the boy on a musical career. After receiving his first lessons from his father, Françaix became a pupil of Nadia Boulanger and also studied piano with Isidore Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1930 he won first prize in Philipp's piano class, the first of many accolades, and from then on his career as a virtuoso of the instrument never looked back. Apart from giving memorable performances of his own works, he also accompanied other musicians, especially cellist Maurice Gendron, with whom he toured extensively. Not surprisingly, his daughter Claude also became a fine pianist and she often accompanied her father in the concert hall and on record.

Françaix was a prolific composer, and his output amounts to well over 200 works in practically all genres. The piano occupies a prime position in the composer's "ouevre", and many of his creations were for this instrument. He also took advantage of this predilection to exhibit his astounding virtuosity and skill that mesmerized many of his admirers. One would be correct if he were to state that Françaix was the French Liszt of the 20th century. His piano music has wit, charm and elegance, but on closer scrutiny a certain sense of wry detachment and nostalgia are easily detectable. Precision and clarity inform practically his whole work, and a jeweled and objective approach suggests affinities with Ravel.

This humdinger of a set from Nimbus is, to my mind, the best Françaix collation to be issued in recent years. The collection includes the greater part of the composer's piano output written over a period of 65 years; from the 1922 "Pour Jacqueline" to the posthumous "Trois esquisses sur le touches blanches" (Three sketches on the white keys), although this composition dates from 1983. For record's sake, Françaix's final collection of piano pieces were the 1987 "La Promenade d'un musicologue eclectique", which are also included on this recording.

A superb issue encapsulating more than 3 hours of hugely inventive piano music that is brimming with emotional colour, subtle moods and sprightly melodic invention, all sprinkled with a hint of Gaelic stylishness. Martin Jones and his two accompanists have this refined music under their skin, and their interpretations are consistently fluent, polished and rhythmically assertive. Elegant, sparkling, characterful. The perfect ingredients for an unforgettable musical banquet. Recommended.

Copyright © 2012 by Gerald Fenech.