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CÉSAR FRANCK SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS
for Piano and Orchestra



The Franck Symphonic Variations is one of my most loved works for piano and orchestra, and one that brings tears to my eyes when I think that Madame Franck hated her husband's music and refused to listen to it.

I defy you to decide upon a favorite among these performances. So many of them have so much to offer. In a special sense, this work depends heavily on the interplay between conductor and pianist and for reasons I cannot possibly explain, I find myself very drawn to the performances by Curzon and Boult, and Gieseking and Mengelberg as being as near perfect as any, tremendously different though they are. [Upon re-hearing, I am obliged to choose the latter as my favorite of all. This greatest of conductors has won the pianist over and what we have is no less than a magical performance of the Franck Symphonic Variations.]

Other performances I really like are those by Casadesus and Horenstein, Anda and van Beinum, and Thiollier and Almeida. And the Cortot, of course. And Eileen Joyce about whose playing I have been passionate since 1964.

If I have one criticism it is that some of the performances of the Franck Symphonic Variations are excessively emotive. The music does not need quite so much help. And when played too  consistently slowly, the magical effect of a sound reminiscent of exquisitely delicate Belgian lace is lost.

It is interesting to note that our current crop of young virtuosi largely seems to have eschewed this fabulous piece (notable exceptions being Benjamin Grosvenor who turns in a very nice performance and Severin von Eckardstein whose performance is particularly beautiful). Too subtle for flashing fingers, perhaps? 



ALFRED CORTOT
Franco-Swiss pianist (1877-1962)

Landon Ronald conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded in 1934




ARTUR RUBINSTEIN
Polish-American pianist (1887-1982)


Dmitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
recorded in 1953




Alfred Wallenstein conducting the Symphony of the Air
recorded in 1958




DAME MYRA HESS
British pianist (1890-1965)

Basil Cameron conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

recorded in 1941




ANDERSON TYRER
English pianist (1893-1962)

Adrian Boult conducting the British Symphony Orchestra

recorded in 1923




WALTER GIESEKING
German pianist (1895-1956)


Henry Wood conductng the London Philharmonic Orchestra
recorded in 1932




Willem Mengelberg conductng the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra
recorded in 1940

part 1



part 2




André Cluytens conductng l'Orchestre National de France
recorded live in 1955




ALEXANDER BRAILOWSKY
Ukranian-French pianist (1896-1976)

Fritz Reiner conducting the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra

recorded in 1952




ROBERT CASADESUS
French pianist (1899-1972)


Jascha Horenstein conducting l'Orchestre National de Fance
recorded live in 1961




Pierre Monteux conducting the San Fancisco Symphony Orchestra




CLIFFORD CURZON
English pianist (1907-1982)

Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded in 1955




JEAN DOYEN
french pianist (1907-1982)

Jean Fournet conducting l'Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux

recorded in 1953




EILEEN JOYCE
Australian pianist (1908-1991)

Charles Munch conducting l'Orchestre des Concerts du Conservatoire

recorded in 1946




JORGE BOLET
Cuban-American pianist (1914-1990)

Riccardo Chailly conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra 




MONIQUE de La BRUCHOLLERIE
French pianist (1915-1972)

Jonel Perlea conducting l'Orchestre des Concerts Colonne




EMIL GILELS
Soviet pianist (1916-1985)

Karl Eliasberg conducting the Radio Symphony Orchestra of the USSR

recorded in 1951




ARTURO BENEDETTI MICHELANGELI
Italian pianist (1920-1995)


Alfred Wallenstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic
recorded live in 1949




Mario Rossi conducting l'Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI




GEZA ANDA
Hungarian pianist (1921-1976)

Eduard van Beinum conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra 

recorded in 1943




GEORGES CZIFFRA
Hungarian-French pianist (1921-1994)

Georges Cziffra, jr conducting l'Orchestre National de l'ORTF

1965 video




PNINA SALZMAN
Israeli pianist (1922-2006)

unidentified conductor and orchestra




ALICIA de LARROCHA
Spanish-Catalan pianist (1923-2009)

Rafael Frubeck de Burgos conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded in 1972




MARGRIT WEBER
Swiss pianist (1924-2001)

Ferenc Fricsay conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra

recorded in 1957



LEONARD PENNARIO
American pianist (1924-2008)

Arthur Fiedler conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra




LEON FLEISHER
American pianist (b 1928)

George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra




IVAN MORAVEC
Czech pianist (b 1930)

Václav Neuman conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra




EVA BERNATHOVA
Czech pianist (b 1930s)

Vaclav Smetacek conducting the Prague Symphony Orchestra




JOHN OGDON
English pianist (1937-1989)

Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London

recorded in 1963




FRANÇOIS-JOËL THIOLLIER
French pianist (b 1943)

Antonio de Almeida conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland




ELENA BASHKIROVA
Russian pianist (b 1958)

Sergiu Celibidache conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded live in 1988




LOUIS LORTIE
French pianist (b 1959)

Yan Pascal Tortelier conducting th BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded ca2000




SEVERIN von ECKARDSTEIN
German pianist (b 1978)

Marcello Viotti conducting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

recorded live in 2004




ALBERTO NOSÈ
Italian pianist (b 1979)

Ion Marin conducting l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

2006 Video


part 1



part 2




BENJAMIN GROSVENOR
British pianist (b 1992)

Gianandrea Nosea conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra

recorded live in 2014










For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.



And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse



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