Lucid Culture


The Ghost of Cesar Franck: Soo Bae and Reiko Uchida in Concert at Pace University, NYC 6/22/09

Monday evening seemed to have been curated by the ghost of Cesar Franck, one of the most underrated composers ever, both during his life and afterward. Throughout the Belgian-born Romantic tunesmith’s impressively diverse repertoire of symphonic, chamber, organ and piano compositions, there are echoes of the best of Bach, Handel and Beethoven’s deeper and more mature works, along with hour after hour of pioneering ideas that foreshadow both Rachmaninoff and rock music. In a brilliant stroke of programming, cellist Soo Bae and her frequent collaborator, pianist Reiko Uchida chose Franck’s Sonata in A Major as the centerpiece of their concert downtown at the Pace University auditorium. The theme of the bill was love, which in most cases portends a lot of schlock. But this performance vividly and completely unselfconscious gave life to the more intense portion of the emotional spectrum. The two Bach pieces that bookended the program were warm and familiar, the first an old gradeschool favorite of the Long Island-bred cellist and the encore a deceptively complex, perfectly paced, contented reflection.

The highlight of the show, in its elaborate, practically 40-minute magnificence called for a vastly more expansive array of emotions: longing, anguish, reverence, joy, passion, breathless anticipation and a lot more, not necessarily in that order. Bae told the crowd that Franck had written it for fellow composer Eugene Ysaye’s wedding – it’s hard to think of a more dramatic or painstakingly crafted gift. The first of its four movements began poignant with call-and-response between the two instruments, growing to a crescendo that was equal parts anguish and passion – Franck obviously knew all too well that love is a dangerous occupation, and to the musicians’ credit, rather than going completely over the top, they both held back, Bae’s knotted brow testament to how intensely she’d been taken in by the composition – yet, both musicians’ interpretation was gently, knowingly nuanced. The second movement began almost as a boogie (this was written a century before the rock era), shifting to one of Franck’s signature anthemic passages, a nocturne, an almost baroque section and an intense, percussive coda. After that, one of Ysaye’s pieces, the Child’s Dream (arranged by Bae herself) couldn’t have been anything but anticlimactic, although the duo did a good job shifting it from an almost cloying, stererotypically Romantic introduction through an increasingly apprehensive series of permutations, like watching a child mature, knowing how much more trouble they’re going to cause everyone as they get older.

Bae then did a fascinating solo interpretation of a spiritual that she’d discovered on youtube, Still, its melody as 18th century Northern European as second-generation African, and she buttressed it with lithe arpeggios that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Scarlatti piece. The program closed with a lighthearted pops tune that would work in a future soundtrack to the Godfather, Part 4: Buenos Aires if that’s ever made. After all this, Cesar Franck wherever he is would still have been smiling.

June 23, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Btw the composer of – what the reviewer refers to the final piece on the program as – the “pop” tune was the versatile and internationally recognized composer, Jay Anthony Gach.

    Comment by lauren harris | June 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. That sounds exciting. I was curious about the ghost part lolz.

    Comment by SherwinJTB | February 17, 2010 | Reply

  3. I think Cesar Franck’s ghost would be a good ghost actually – Franck was supposedly a real nice guy unlike a lot of his contemporaries. Louis Vierne, the great composer was terrified of his first organ teacher but when he started taking lessons from Franck he came out of his shell and look how good he got…had he never met Franck he might have never realized his potential…

    Comment by the boss here | February 18, 2010 | Reply

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