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  • John France, MusicWeb

"All along, the pianist’s interpretation is imaginative and fulfilling.

The meaning of the French word “filigrane” relevant to Adriana von Franqué’s debut recording is filigree: a goldsmith’s work made of an elaborate mesh of gold or silver thread. Indeed, much of the programme is finely wrought and graceful in this collection of music composed in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The remarkable recital opens with Lili Boulanger’s beautiful D’un vieux Jardin from Trois morceux pour piano. Impressionistic and reflective, it perfectly evokes the wistfulness of an old garden. The influence of Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy is never far away, but Boulanger brings her delicate sensibility to this piece.

Simon Laks, a new name to me, was a Polish Jew from Warsaw. His early efforts were first heard in Paris. During the Second World War, the Germans arrested him and sent him to Auschwitz, where he became the camp orchestra’s conductor. He survived, and kept composing until his death. His music is traditional, sometimes neoclassical, and often tinged with romanticism: he eschewed the avant-garde. The Ballade “Hommage à Chopin” is a nod towards his native country. The opening slow section suggests Chopin in his quieter moods. In the bravura second section, we move “abruptly and stormily into jazz-like realms, unexpectedly striking up a mazurka”. It is not a pastiche, perhaps to be treated as Chopin’s lost work, but it does come across as a remarkable synthesis of the older composer’s pianism seen through the eyes of a mid-twentieth century traditionalist.

I was impressed by Adriana von Franqué shimmering performance of Noctuelles from Maurice Ravel’s suite Miroirs, which conjures the chaotic fluttering of moths on a warm night. It is characterised by complex and chromatic figurations, at times scurrying, often delicate, and always challenging to play. The middle section, calm and chordal, creates a mood of repose. The piece was dedicated to the poet and essayist Léon-Paul Fargue, a member of the French avant-garde group Les Apaches.

My highlight of this recital is the sumptuous performance of Claude Debussy’s Estampes. The title refers to engravings printed from copper or wooden plates. The work’s three pieces bring to mind diverse cultures. Pagodes was inspired by Indonesian gamelan, which Debussy had heard at the Paris World Conference Exhibition in 1889. La soirée dans Grenade is another fine example of a Frenchman writing great Spanish-inspired music, even if Debussy never got further into Spain than a day trip to San Sebastián. Here, for a languid impression, he uses Arabic scales with guitar-like strumming. Jardins sous la pluie sonically imagines a garden in Normandy in a rainstorm. Into this “toccata”, the composer subtly introduces children’s songs. It has been described as the “musical equivalent […] of a Pissarro or a Sisley”. All along, the pianist’s interpretation is imaginative and fulfilling.

Cesar Franck’s Prélude, Choral et Fugue is solemn and sombre. The key of B minor seems to point up the grief-stricken effect of the work – but there is nothing dull about the intensely rich chromatic harmony and delicious pianistic figurations. Franck intended a Prelude and Fugue, and added the Choral later, mimicking the central sections of Bach’s keyboard toccatas. The work is based on five motifs used through the three movements; some return in the final fugue. It is well-constructed, and internal self-referencing makes for a satisfying cyclical structure that stretches classical forms. The performance here integrates the “floating soundscapes, chromatic lines and constant modulations” into a satisfying whole. This is especially prominent in von Franqué’s account of the Fugue. Overall, there is a good balance of contemplation and subdued passion.

The booklet – from which I borrow here, with thanks – says that Berlin-born Adriana von Franqué is driven by passion and curiosity. She is a winner of many prizes, including the “Jugend Musiziert” competition, and was awarded the Butterfly Communications Piano Prize, the Classical Music Prize of the Rotary Club of Berlin, and second prize at the Elise Meyer Competition in Hamburg. She has performed in Europe, North America and South America. An important motivation for her is to make classical music accessible; to this end, she is involved with educational projects.

The liner notes, most helpfully, are written in a chatty, rather than analytical, manner. They take the form of a journey around Paris. The recording is well-defined and clear. The blurb sums up the overall effect of this delightful disc: “The result is floating, atmospheric, finely crafted music that seems to incorporate the Tuileries Garden, the banks of the Seine, or the intricate lacework of the Eiffel Tower…”



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