girl-penguinFairouz, Mohammed

FAIROUZ: Chorale Fantasy. For Victims / Borromeo String Quartet / Jebel Lebnan / Imani Winds / Native Informant – Sonata for Solo Violin / Rachel Barton Pine, violinist / Posh / Christopher Thompson, baritenor; Steven Spooner, pianist / Tawidah / Melissa Hughes, soprano; David Krakauer, clarinetist / Naxos 8.559744

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FAIROUZ: Symphony No. 3, “Poems and Prayers” / Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; James Callon, tenor; David Kravitz, baritone; Nicole Sauder, violinist; UCLA Chorale &University Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra; Neal Stulberg, conductor / Tahrir / David Krakauer, clarinetist; UCLA Philharmonia; Neal Stulberg, conductor / Sono Luminus 92177

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FAIROUZ: Symphony No. 4, “In the Shadow of No Towers.” P. GLASS: Concerto Fantasy for 2 Timpanists & Orchestra / University of Kansas Wind Ensemble; Paul W. Popeil, conductor / Naxos 8.573205

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FAIROUZ: Zabur / Dann Coakwell, tenor; Michael Kelly, baritone; Indianapolis Children’s Choir; Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Eric Stark, conductor / Naxos 8.559803

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Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is certainly one of the youngest great composers of today. His music uses Western classical forms, but within those forms he employs a wide variety of influences, not just—as would be expected—Middle Eastern ones. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his music utilizes Eastern melodies and harmonies but not normally Eastern rhythms, as for instance the music of jazz/world musician Rabih Abou-Khalil. These four CDs give a superb overview of his work in a variety of forms, ranging from chamber music to the fully-scored symphonies and the remarkable oratorio Zabur. In my review of the latter I commented on the fact that “he doesn’t so much vacillate between them as he constantly keeps them inextricably bound together. Fairouz’ abilities as a composer also extend to his talent for scoring an orchestra and writing for chorus. His use of color in his music is extraordinary; so too his clever use of alternating rhythms to enhance the emotional impact of the music…I was constantly surprised and delighted by his ability to keep morphing and changing the music, melodically and rhythmically, while retaining a musical flow in which the disparate elements coalesce into a swirling whole.” All of these performances are remarkable for their emotional intensity as well as their technical precision. The Glass Concerto, on the other hand, is rubbish.

Falla, Manuel de

FALLA: El Amor Brujo (complete) / Shirley Verrett, mezzo-soprano; Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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FALLA: El Amor Brujo (complete) / Josefina Burzio, contralto; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: January 28, 1939)

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FALLA: El Amor Brujo: Pantomime / Nicholas Zumbro, pianist (part of Concert Artist 9004) / Ritual Fire Dance / José Iturbi, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Two remarkable performances by seasoned, mature conductors in their advanced years. The Stokowski is not quite as cleanly played and Shirley Verrett doesn’t sound very Spanish, but it is in stereo and quite beautiful. The Toscanini performance is a little-known gem from 1939, although he takes the liberty of repeating the “cantad campenas” an octave higher at the very end. The Spanish contralto Josefina Burzio, who I had never heard before, is earthy and intense as is Toscanini’s conducting. I’m giving it five fish despite the dated, boxy sound just because it is so freaking good. Ataúlfo Argenta’s 1957 performance is almost as intense as Toscanini’s, but mezzo Teresa Berganza’s voice is too smooth and rounded to convey the raw feelings of the text (though she tries her best).

The pianistic excerpts of the Pantomime by Nicholas Zumbro and the Ritual Fire Dance by José Iturbi are my favorite versions of these pieces. I saw Arthur Rubinstein play a fabulous version live in 1968, but his filmed performance from the movie Carnegie Hall is ridiculously rushed.

FALLA: Concerto for Harpsichord, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Violin & Cello / Zuzana Růžičková, harpsichordist; František Cech, flautist; Jaroslav Chvapil, oboist; Karel Dlouhý, clarinetist; Lubomir Novosad, violinist; Karel Vik, cellist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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An absolutely terrific yet little-known piece by de Falla, played to perfection by the great harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková and her equally excellent colleagues.

FALLA: Homenajes (Suite for Orchestra). Noches en los Jardines de España / Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / Cascavelle 3134

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Since I’m not in touch with a lot of modern-day classical listeners, I don’t know if Ernest Ansermet has become a forgotten conductor, but if he has it must be one of the greatest travesties in music history. This man was a deeply committed and serious artist who had the respect and admiration of Charles Munch, Pierre Monteux, Artur Rodzinski and Arturo Toscanini, who insisted that he be re-hired as a guest conductor of his NBC Symphony Orchestra. Ansermet could conduct a wide range of musical styles, and this is yet another proof of that.

FALLA: Seven Popular Spanish Songs / Conchita Supervia, mezzo-soprano; Frank Marshall, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Nobody, but nobody, comes close to Conchita Supervia in these songs. Yes, she had the most vibrato-ridden voice in human history, but she controlled it wonderfully well and her interpretation is so intense that it’ll knock you over. The recording is old (recorded March 10, 1930) but the interpretation is electrifying.

FALLA: The Three-Cornered Hat (complete ballet) / Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano; Orchestre de la SuisseRomande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming in 8 parts on YouTube

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Another outstanding performance of Falla’s music, in this case his ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. Ansermet’s 1961 recording has become legendary for its edginess, clarity and superb evocation of mood. It also doesn’t hurt that he was an old hand at conducting ballet, having worked for Serge Diaghelev’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the 1910s and early ‘20s. The stereo sonics are good enough to warrant its six fish.

Faure, Gabriel

FAURÉ: A Clymène. Arpège. Aurore. Les Berceaux. La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61. La Chanson du Pêcheur. C’est l’extase. Crépuscle. Dans la forêt de Septembre. Le Don Silencieux. Eau Vivante. Fleur Jetèe. La Fleur qui va sur l’eau. Green. L’Horizon Chimérique, Op. 118. Je me poserai sur ton cœur. Madrigal. Mandoline. Mirages, Op. 113. Le Parfum impérissable. Poème. Prison. La Rose. Le Secret. Soir. En Sourdine. Spleen. Tristesse / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, pianist / Newton 8802007

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Superb performances of Fauré’s songs by the great Gérard Souzay, in decent stereo sound. For other Fauré songs, also see under Collections: Maggie Teyte, Karina Gauvin, Renée Fleming.

FAURÉ: Cantique de Jean Racine. Pavane in F-harp minor, Op. 50. Élegíe in C minor. Salmo “Super flumina Babylonis.” Requiem in De minor, Op. 4 / Chen Reiss, soprano; Matthias Goerne, baritone; Philippe Aiche, violinist; Chœur et l’Orchestra de Paris; Paavo Järvi, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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This is the greatest concert or recording I’ve evr hear by Paavo Järvi, who spent several years as principal conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and produced a string of faceless, uninteresting performances. I attribute it in part to the fact that he was conducting the Orchestra of Paris, which has this musical style in their blood (an earlier incarnation of this orchestra also gave a fabulous performance of the Berlioz Requiem). In addition, soiprano Chen Reiss and baritone Matthias Goerne have exactly the right voices for the ethereal Requiem. A six-fish gem!

FAURÉ: La Chanson d’Eve / Jan de Gaetani, mezzo-soprano; Lee Luvisi, pianist / Bridge 9023, or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10

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A magnificent performance of Fauré’s great song cycle by the fantastic Jan de Gaetani. Idoubt if this one will ever be surpassed.

FAURÉ: Pelléas et Mélisande Suite / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

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An oft-overlooked gem, given here a classic performance by the great Charles Munch, a conductor I hold in high esteem for the passion and elegance of his interpretations.

FAURÉ: Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 15 / Nadia Reisenberg, pianist; Robert Mann, violinist; Samuel Rhodes, violist; Joel Krosnick, cellist / part of Roméo 7293-94 or available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

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An absolutely rapturous performance of this early Fauré quartet featuring the remarkable pianist Nadia Reisenberg, whose star has risen surprisingly high in the past decade.

FAURÉ: Piano Quintets Nos. 1 & 2 / Eric le Sage, pianist; Quatuor Ebène / Alpha Outhere 602 or available for free streaming on YouTube in pieces

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Superb renditions of the piano quintets by this young pianist and a string quartet emotionally committed to this music.

Ferroud, Pierre-Octave

FERROUD: Au Parc Monceau. Fables. Prélude et Forlane.  Sonatine for Piano. Types / Marie-Catherine Girod, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above

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FERROUD: Symphony in A: I. Vivace; II. Andante expressivo assai; III. Allegro con brio. Types (orchestral version): I. Vieux beau; 2. Bourgeoise de qualité; 3. Businessman. Foules, Tone Poem for Orchestra. Serenade: I. Berceuse; 2. Pavane; 3. Spiritual / Orchestre National de Lyon; Emmanuel Krivine, conductor / Naive V4909 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles and movements above

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The brilliant but little-known Ferroud probably owes his obscurity to the fact that he died in a tragic auto accident at the age of 36, but he was highly admired by Poulenc, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Dukas and Florent Schmitt. His music combined elements of modern French music with bits of Bartok and Stravinsky, was brilliantly developed as well as attractive to the ear. The performances listed above are well realized and performed with exuberance.

Field, John

FIELD: Nocturnes: No. 4 in A; No. 10 in E min.; No. 18 in E. Variations on a Russian Folk Song in A min. / Daria Gloukhova, pianist / part of Centaur 3145 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clocking on the individual titles

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John Field is most famous for having created the Nocturne form later exploited so well by Chopin. The problem with all Nocturnes is that they are often played in a mushy, overly-romantic manner that excoriates the backbone of the music. Russian pianist Daria Gloukhova performs them better than most.

 

Fischer, Clare

C. FISCHER: Pensiamente for Alto Saxophone & Chamber Orchestra. Realización for String Orchestra / Studio orchestra; Gary Foster, a-sax/conductor / Miniature / Brent Fischer, vibes/marimbas; Clare Fischer, shakers; String orchestra / Interlude for Piano. Reflection for Piano / Bryan Pezzone, pianist / Coming Home / Studio orch.; Clare Fischer, conductor / Suddenly. A Moment of Silence / Studio orch.; Brent Fischer, conductor /B. FISCHER: Weekend in Stockholm. Retrograde Orbits for Vibraphone / Brent Fischer, vibes / MANCINI: Two for the Road (arr. C. Fischer) / Studio orch.; Clare Fischer, conductor / Clavo Records 201309

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The late Dr. Clare Fischer, originally a West Coast jazz pianist in the Lennie Tristano mold and writer-arranger for the jazz vocal group The Hi-Lo’s, eventually morphed into one of the most interesting of jazz-classical composers. A great many of his jazz pieces were in Latin rhythm, and after a short time he became very busy for decades as a writer of commercial tunes and arrangements for several pop music performers, but he spent a great deal of the money he made from these endeavors recording his jazz and classical works. This album, released posthumously by his son Brent, is certainly one of the finest, containing a number of pieces that Clare Fischer composed. A few were conducted by him before his death, the others performed by his friends and colleagues Bryan Pezzone (piano) and Gary Foster (alto sax and conductor) as well as by his son Brent (vibes, marimbas and conductor). Strongly influenced by both the modern French school of composition (Milhaud, Poulenc, etc.) and a bit of Stravinsky, Fischer’s music follows its own internal logic. It also has the strong undercurrent of jazz about it, even when the music is entirely written out. Very interesting music!

Flagello, Nicolas

FLAGELLO: Odyssey. Valse Noire. Symphony No. 2. Concerto Sinfonico / University of Houston Saxophone Quartet & Wind Ensemble; David Bertman, conductor / also see: ROSNER / Naxos 8.573060

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Nicolas Flagello, the brother of famed American bass Ezio Flagello, was one of the more underrated composers of his generation. Essentially a tonalist who worked in parallel or overlapping harmonies, Flagello carved out his own niche in the music world using Holst-like orchestral timbres and unusual melodic lines. The Symphony No. 2 is a particularly fascinating and creative work, using a number of interesting rhythms and colors.

Fleischer, Tsippi

FLEISCHER: Galbi Malan Yumma (My Heart is Full Mother) (in Yemenite Arabic) / Reuma Nahum Abbas, voice / Ethnic Silhouettes: Bedouin Children, Eskimo women, Georgian men, a Croatian girl / Jelena Sotric, voice; Barbaros Erköse, clarinetist; Cory Gatry, Ofer Waldeman, Barak Yeivin, hornists; Michael Melzer, recorder / Four Old Stories: I. The Goddess Anath (sung in Urgaritic) II. The Judgment of Solomon (in Biblical Hebrew) III. Appeal to the Stars (in Old Babylonian) IV. Daniel in the Den of Lions (in Coptic) / Mira Zakai, contralto; Daniel Ettinger, baritone; Ronen Ravid, bass; Gilad Hildesheim, violinist; Aharon Yaron, violist; Raz Cohen, cellist; Peter Marck, bassist; Irena Friedlander, pianist; Oron Schwarz, percussionist; Men’s Chorus; Eva Pitlik, Dietburg Spohr, conductors / Opus One 181, available for free download here

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ARABISCHE TEXTUREN / FLEISCHER: Ballad of Expected Death in Cairo / Isabelle Ganz, mezzo-soprano; 2 violins, viola & piano / A Girl Dreamed She Was a Butterfly. Like Two Branches / Israel Kibbutz Choir; 2 oboes, prepared piano, cello & percussion; Avner Itai, Gerard Wilgowicz, conductors / Aulos [Koch-Schwann] 3-1420-2, available for free download here

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FLEISCHER: Cain & Abel, A Grand Chamber Opera in Five Scenes / Doron Tavori, baritone (Cain); David Sebba, baritone (Abel); Adi Even-Or, mezzo-soprano; (Cain’s lamb); Chen Reiss, soprano (Avel’s lamb); Jiri Mikula, director / Vienna Modern Masters 4005, available for free download here

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The music of Tsippi Fleischer occupies its own unique universe in the musical world. Part of the symbolist or, one might say, deconstructionist school of music, Fleischer combines odd instruments, percussion, prepared tape and real-time voices and choruses to create almost an ambient sound world, yet one in which the underlying structure is always perceptible. It is delicate, often with strange textures and using voices instrumentally, with melodic structures that sound at once both ancient and modern. Her musical progression juxtaposes themes, using development sections for further exploration of sounds. Born in Israel, her heritage is both Jewish and Arabic, thus she combines features of both cultures in her sound world. Although I also like some of her instrumental music, particularly her first symphony (subtitled “Salt Crystals”), I find that she works best in writing for voices, both solo and in choirs. Thus the above recommended list concentrates on this aspect of her oeuvre. Of note is the fact that she was one of the first composers to record such now-revered singers as mezzo Isabelle Ganz and coloratura soprano Chen Reiss, whose work is now highly prized internationally, but Fleischer has always had great instincts in finding singers well suited to her musical imagination.

The chamber opera Cain & Abel is particularly interesting in that each of its five scenes is a self-contained unit that could be performed independently of the others, yet together they make a fascinating musical mosaic. The video production of the opera uploaded on YouTube (click here) is, however, a bit bizarre and typical of the scourge of Regietheater that has overtaken the opera world, despite its fine musical qualities.

Flotow, Friedrich von

FLOTOW: Martha / Maria Bengtsson, sop (Lady Harriet/Martha); Katharina Magiera, mezzo (Nancy/Julia); Barnaby Rea, bass (Lord Tristan Mickleford); AJ Glueckert, ten (Lionel); Björn Bürger, bass-bar (Plunkett); Franz Mayer, bass (Sheriff of Richmond); Frankfurt Opera Chorus & Orchestra; Sebastian Weigle, cond / Oehms Classics OC 972 (live: Frankfurt, October 2016)

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FLOTOW: Martha (highlights) / Annaliese Rothenberger, soprano (Harriet/Martha); Hetty Plümacher, mezzo (Nancy); Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (Lionel); Georg Völker, bass (Lord Tristan); Gottlob Frick, bass (Plunkett); Robert Koffmane, baritone (Sherriff); Berlin Municipal Opera Orch. & Chorus; Berislav Klobucar, conductor / EMI CDZ 25 2215 (out of print)

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Friedrich von Flotow was a one-hit composer, but what a hit! Martha was once one of the world’s most beloved and oft-performed comic operas, but in recent years it has fallen to the level of a stage rarity. This is a shame, because the music is unfailingly interesting and colorful.

For more than seven decades, the 1944 Johannes Schüler recording with Erna Berger, Else Tegethoff, Peter Anders and Josef Greindl won by default, but it has now finally been surpassed in almost every way (mezzo Katharina Magiera is not quite as dazzling as Tegethoff and doesn’t possess a trill) by the Oehms Classics recording, in fine digital stereo. This is a performance that will put a smile on your face that won’t come off until the very last chord.

This 1960 album of highlights from the opera—which, for some strange reason, omits the “spinning quartet” which is one of the work’s great moments—is now sadly hard to find, although excerpts from it appear to be scattered on YouTube. But it’s well worth seeking out. Wunderlich’s voice is perfect for Lionel and Berislav Klobucar’s conducting is as sparking and lively as one could imagine. A real gem!

Françaix, Jean

FRANÇAIX: Canon in Octave / BernhardScully, hornist; Joanne Minnetti, pianist / part of Albany 1321, also available for free streaming on YouTube

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FRANÇAIX: Élégie. L’Heure du Berger, part 1, part 2, part 3. Quatuor (for Cor Anglais & Strings), part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. Sixtuour, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. Variations sur un theme plaisant / Anthony Robb, Sandra Skipper, flautists; Jeremy Polmear, Christopher Hooker, English horn/oboists; Neyire Ashworth, Alan Andrews, clarinetists; Philip Gibbon, bassoonist; Damian Brasington, bsn/contra-bsn; Susan Dent, Alexia Cammish, hornists; Diana Ambache, pianist / Oboe Classics 2029

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FRANÇAIX: Piano Concerto in D / Jean Françaix, pianist; L’Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris; Nadia Boulanger, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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FRANÇAIX: Quintet for Winds / Farkas Quintet Amsterdam / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Jean Françaix was a composer of light but superbly crafted music in the Satie-Poulenc mold who lived much longer than either of them. The above works are my absolute favorites, but of course you are welcome to discover your own if you poke around enough. My favorite performance of the Quintet is actually the one by the old New York Woodwind Quintet back in the day when the jolly John Barrows was their horn player, issued in the U.S. on the now-defunct Everest label, but alas it seems to have disappeared. This version by the Farkas Quintet is almost as good, lacking only some definition in the rather wild inner lines played by the quintet members.

Franck, Cesar

FRANCK: A cette terre où l’on ploie sa tente. Aimer. L’Ange et l’Enfant. Les cloches du soir. L’Émir de Bengador. Lied. Le mariage des roses. Ninon. Nocturne. Passez! Passez toujours! La Procession. Robin Grey. Roses et Papillons. S’il est un charmant gazon. Souvenance. Le vase brisé / Francesca Scaini, soprano; Mattia Ornetto, pianist / Brilliant Classics 94457, some of these available for free streaming on YouTube

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Francesca Scaini is a fairly good singer, certainly not one of the greats, but finding collections of Franck’s gorgeous songs—beyond La Procession, Nocturne and Panis Angelicus—is so difficult that you have to like what she does here, and pianist Ornetto plays with both passion and elegance.

FRANCK: Panis Angelicus / Kiri te Kanawa, soprano / available for free streaming on YouTube

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Many singers have recorded this song; te Kanawa is my pick for the freshest-sounding and most lively interpretation.

FRANCK: Cello Sonata in A minor / Jacqueline du Pré, cellist; Daniel Barenboim, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube: parts 1 & 2, part 3, part 4

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I’m not sure which is more painful: listening to Jackie du Pré play the cello like a goddess and think of how MS destroyed her career and then her life, or to think that, for whatever reason, her star has faded and is in danger of going out. No music lover with a brain and a heart could not be affected by the sublimity of her sound, her deep feeling, and her passion for music.

FRANCK: Le Chausseur Maudit / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube

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There are many fine recordings of this piece by Ansermet, Muti and others, but none as inspired as this version by Charles Munch.

FRANCK: Pièce Héroique / Virgil Fox, organist / available for free streaming on YouTube

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If you have an allergy to Virgil Fox, you are free to find your favorite version of this piece, but to my mind there was no one in the entire world who could bring music like this to life the way Fox did. Beneath his showman façade, he was a master musician, and don’t you ever forget that.

FRANCK: Psyche et Eros. Les Eolides. Redemption / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking the individual titles above

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Fantastic performances of three relatively little-known Franck orchestral pieces. Les Eolides, which dates from 1938, has the most dated sound; the other two, dating from the early 1950s in Carnegie Hall, are quite good in sound quality.

FRANCK: Symphony in D minor / Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2

5-fish

Only one conductor could conduct this symphony with such a combination of passion, elegance, clarity and in stereo, and that was Charles Munch. No one else in the stereo or digital era even comes close.

FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A / Maria Bachmann, violinist; Adam Nieman, pianist / part of Bridge 9394

5-fish

Absolutely the most exciting and intense performance of this classic work you will ever hear.

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