Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Pianist James Tocco performs long-lost Eduard Franck work: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13

It was about 10 years ago that pianist James Tocco began to become acquainted with the music of Eduard Franck. "A violinist asked me if I wanted to participate in a recording project of the complete string quartets of Eduard Franck, and I said, 'Who?' '' Tocco recalls.

Little did the pianist know at the time that he was going to play a part in an intriguing musical detective story involving the composer's lost piano concerto, which he will perform next weekend with the Florida Orchestra.

One composer named Franck — Cesar Franck, the immortal French composer — wrote music that is solidly in the standard repertoire, but the works of Eduard Franck (1817-93), a German composer, have fallen into relative obscurity, despite enjoying quite a lot of success in his day.

"Much loved as a teacher, he was also admired as a pianist with a particularly fine touch; his music, largely instrumental, was praised by his contemporaries, including his friend Schumann," reads the brief entry on Franck in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the bible of classical music.

In Europe, the works of Franck have been enjoying a revival of sorts, in large part because of the championing of them by Tocco's friend, German violinist Christiane Edinger. She has at least eight Franck recordings to her credit, including one, with Tocco, of the composer's four sonatas for violin and piano. Tocco also recorded Franck's Piano Quintet with the violinist's group, the Edinger Quartet.

This year, a recording by Tocco and two other musicians — cellist Yehuda Hanani and violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi — of Franck chamber music is slated to be released on the Naxos label.

But one Franck work has been elusive, his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13, which had been dedicated to Clara Schumann, a piano virtuoso and wife of the composer Robert Schumann.

Franck, whose composition teachers included Felix Mendelssohn, played the concerto himself as the piano soloist in several performances in Germany between 1846 and 1867. He also may have performed it in Rome, where he was a member of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. But according to the Franck family, it probably hasn't been performed in a very long time.

"This work lay fallow because there was no score and there was an incomplete set of parts," Tocco says. "Along with the piano part, only the string parts could be found, and not the extremely important wind parts, which play a huge role in the work."

For many years, two descendants of Franck, his great grandson and great-great grandson, both lawyers, searched for the missing instrumental parts, primarily in German music libraries and orchestra archives.

"The family came up empty-handed," Tocco says, going on to speculate why the concerto's music could not be found. "During the Nazi era, music of Jewish composers, even those who had converted to Catholicism, like the Franck family, was banned, and much of it was destroyed."

Tocco was involved in a project to reconstruct the concerto's score from the fragmented parts when a discovery was made. "Suddenly, a couple of years ago, they miraculously discovered a full set of parts in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. They thought he might have played it there, and sure enough, they found the parts in the archives."

Now a critical urtext edition of the concerto, edited by Tocco, has been published by Pfefferkorn Music Publishers in Leipzig, Germany. The pianist will be playing it with the Florida Orchestra next weekend in what he figures is the work's U.S. premiere. The newly published concerto has yet to be performed in Europe.

Stefan Sanderling, the orchestra's music director, is German, and when told about the rediscovered concerto, he was immediately interested in programming it, says Tocco, who was the soloist in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with Sanderling and the orchestra in 2009. The all-German program will also include overtures by Weber, Mendelssohn, Lortzing and Nicolai and a prelude by Wagner.

Tocco describes the 30-minute work as "a big, meaty early Romantic piano concerto, beautifully crafted." He says it was influenced by works of Schumann and Mendelssohn but also has some inventive touches.

"It follows basically the classical three-movement concerto structure, fast slow fast, with the first movement roughly in sonata allegro form and a second movement that could be termed a romanza or a nocturne," the pianist says. "What's unusual about it is that the theme of the nocturne — it's very beautiful, reminiscent of one of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words — returns in a kind of grandiose fashion at the very end of the third movement. I don't know any precedent for this."

Why go to such trouble for a piece of music by a long-neglected composer from the 19th century?

"I think any piece of music that you present, whether it be new music or old music that has been rediscovered, you have to be certain that the audience is going to find something worthwhile, and I certainly think that's the case here," Tocco says. "There are only so many times you can hear the Beethoven Seventh Symphony and still get a charge from it. There's a lot of music out there that has never been heard that just might represent a moment of illumination for a listener. It seems to me that is what we should be trying to do as performers."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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