A Celebration of César Franck: A Review

Organ stops on the French harmonium

by Carlton Russell

2022 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of César Franck; and, accordingly, Dr. Birch organized “A Celebration of César Franck” consisting of three evening programs.

Read more: A Celebration of César Franck: A Review

On October 10, we were gifted with a varied selection of Franck’s music, with only one solo organ piece – the Chorale No. 3 in A Minor – and only one piece not by Franck (an arrangement of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage). Performers were Anatole Wieck, violin; Carmen Peralta, piano; Scott Burditt, horn; and Kevin Birch, organ and harmonium (a Parisian instrument dating – like Opus 288 – from 1860). We heard, among other music, the famous Panis Angelicus and the great Sonata in A Major for violin and piano.

October 11, the second Franck evening, featured Jonathan Moyer, organist, who opened with several pieces by Franck’s teacher, François Benoist, and – after music from Franck’s l’Organiste played by Dr. Birch on the French harmonium — closed with Franck’s magisterial Grande Pièce Symphonique, an expansive tone poem displaying the technique of thematic transformation so beloved by Romantic composers. As Dr. Moyer says in his concise and perceptive program notes: “[the work is] a narrative of striking transformation, leading both listener and performer on a poetic journey from epic struggle to triumphant apotheosis”.

The final Franck program, on October 12, was. preceded by Kevin Birch’s demonstration of the 1860 Parisian harmonium. Dana Robinson’s program included works by Lefébure-Wely and Gabriel Pierné, the latter a pupil of Franck and his successor at Ste. Clotilde. Especially interesting for organists were two Franck organ pieces that are not part of the 12 famous works: the Fantaisie in C Major, Op. 16, No. 1 (Franck’s first major organ piece) and the Andantino in G Minor (his first published organ work). Dana ended his recital with the Trois Pièces (1878), the last of which is the Pièce héroïque. As Dana writes in his notes: “. . . this is Franck’s most programmatic organ work, evoking struggle, hope, and triumph”. Dana’s brilliant performance of it brought the Franck celebration and the 2022 season to what was, indeed, a triumphant close.

2023 Summer Concert Series

St. John’s Organ Society is pleased to announce our 30th Summer Recital Series on Maine’s largest 19th-Century mechanical-action pipe organ, E. & G. G. Hook’s magnificent Opus 288, at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church in Bangor.

These hour-long recitals occur on Thursday evenings at 7:30. St. John’s Catholic Church is located at 207 York Street in Bangor. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

July 27:  Joshua Ehlebracht (New Haven, CT)

August 3:  Rosalind Mohnsen (Malden, MA)

August 10: Paul Griffin (organ) and Sophia Anastasi Griffin (soprano) (Washington, DC)

August 17:  Abraham Ross (Montreal, QC)

August 24:  Mary-Katherine Fletcher (Boston, MA)

August 31:  Kevin Birch (Bangor, ME)