Favorite CDs by French composers?

February 14, 2005 at 06:45 AM · I need to learn how to play an orchestral piece by Faure with a "French sound". I wouldn't know a French sound if it hit me on the head. This dismal gap in my education gives me a good excuse to buy some CDs. What are your favorite CDs by French composers that provide good examples of a "French sound"?

Replies (20)

February 14, 2005 at 01:15 PM · I don't really know what a 'French sound' is in music - subtle and restrained, with a certain number of 9th chords and modulations perhaps?

However, I recommend Ginette Neveu's recording of Chausson's Poeme and Debussy's Sonata. Christian Ferras' recording of the Franck and Fauré Sonatas is probably about as 'French' as you can get.

Good luck,


February 14, 2005 at 02:38 PM · some of my favorites

chausson poeme - oistrakh

fuare sonatas - grumiaux

poulenc sonata - suk

lekeu sonata - olivera

franck sonata - oistrakh

rare french concertos including the fuare concerto - griffin

saint seans concerto 1 - chung

saint saens concerto 3 - perlman

saint saens sonata 1 - ehnes

saint saens intro rondo - oistrakh

saint saens havanaise - kogan

franck sonata - oistrakh

February 14, 2005 at 02:06 PM · I think that when people say "french sound" they usually mean that floating sound that is produced with less pressure more bow and away from the bridge. This is heard in the beginning of the Debussy sonata or in the beginning and Fantasy of the Franck. I wouldn't recommend espcially hearing the Chausson for learning about this kind of sound because most of the piece the soloist has to struggle in order to be heard above the orchestra so there is not much place for a "French sound" in that sense of the term.

That being said I would recommend hearing the Ravel String Quartet performed by the LaSalle quartet. And the Debussy Violin Sonata with Thibaud.

February 14, 2005 at 03:48 PM · for me the french sound was pioneered by ravel and debussy

when i think of french music i think of the french impressionist painters and the french music was the same thing for me - the chausson poeme for example I consider to be very impressionistic

if you liten to debussy's images for solo piano you can hear alot of chromaticly embellished harmony with a realy whole tone kind of sound to it, it has a kiind of floating sound as some one mentioned but for me it is more in reference to the harmony

when you hear the fuare sonatas you can her this in the harmony - a sence of floating with whole tone like sounds mixed in with diatonic sounds

i guess that doesnt answer your question regaring playing the music in a french style just my thoughts about french music

thibaud or grumiaux or yes neveu and francescatti is probably the one to listen to for the french sound with respect to playing

February 14, 2005 at 05:08 PM · Orchestral pieces: anything by Ravel or Debussy played by Montreal/Dutoit will be a good benchmark. (They also have a rec. of the Faure Requiem and Pelleas & Melisande pieces)

Also Nagano/Lyon... also Martinon/Paris... also Plasson/Toulouse... and probably others...

February 14, 2005 at 05:15 PM · Once a pianist I was playing with said of a certain part of the Franck sonata that, "I think this is his French side showing, all watercolor-y."

That seemed to help me find a French sound, to think of it as being "watercolor-y"!

February 14, 2005 at 05:34 PM · How about the Galimir quartet (4 siblings) recording of the Ravel and Milhaud SQ #7, both performed under the auspices of their respective composers? Recording technology in the mid-30's can't compare to today, but the sound is clear (not scratchy) and the playing comes through.

February 14, 2005 at 10:45 PM · Thank you for your ideas!

February 14, 2005 at 11:49 PM · I think Debussy and Ravel were emulating the lightness of the earlier French sound, that of Couperin and Rameau, as an antidote to the German seriousness that had dominated the 19th century. I think, among other things, this means a light touch, rhythmic subtlety, gentle suggestion instead of statement, tasteful tonal ambiguity, and poplars swaying in the wind.

I Love Debussy's sonatas, both for violin and for cello. Faure and Ravel are definitely next, although I think Franck is still fairly "Romantic". (although it is beautiful). I would add the works of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, who were influenced by the so-called 'impressionists.'

Debussy was once called "the genius of good taste." And I think this sums up the French sound. Tasteful, but not filling.

February 15, 2005 at 12:08 AM · Greetings,

recently I worked on the Debussy piano trio. The blurb that went with my recording of it it suggested that this very early work was written when Debussy was very much within the orbit of the Tchaikovsky circle. We played around with that idea for a bit but although it seemed to illuminate some aspetcs of the work itself it was not helpful in tyhe interpretation at all.

What seemed to work and felt the most French was to really just feel like the musach repeated and developed 16th note passages just floated out with the minimum of distortion, and worry less about direction in the same way one would in more @classical@ works. Its kind of like looking at the huge spread of Monet`s watre lillies: you can take it all in in a kind of soft focus, look at one bit, then another and register pleasantly that it is the same but a little bit differnet, perhaps touched by mopre sunlight.



February 15, 2005 at 01:19 AM · This is a short and probably inadequate response, but I think a French sound has this subtle warmth to it, one that isn't overpowering and "strong", but is still lush with color and warmth. Take the Debussy quartet, its like an impressionistic painting, dabs of color everywhere. I think a French sound has to have the most color possible out of every note, but also to have a warmth to it that can't every go away.

February 15, 2005 at 01:28 AM · excuse me for sounding ignorant, but some of Ernst's polyphonic studies are pretty french

just my 2 cents (2 wooden cents that is)

February 15, 2005 at 06:53 AM · Yes, the Frank Sinatra (in A Major) is definately French.

February 15, 2005 at 02:44 PM · well put mark

...it is that tonal ambiguity that I associate with musical impressionism, like a blurb of color that means nothing by itself but adds to the picture as a whole but since you are using blurbs of paint, the picture comes across kind of blurry, the image is blurred. The same is true with tone color, lets say for example the piano part of the fuare sonata the tone color of the is blurred by the tonal ambuguity, by using chromatic embellishments that gives it that floating sound

February 15, 2005 at 04:03 PM · A recording that I have always felt sounded especially "French" is not French at all. Leonard Rose's recording of the Saint-Saens CELLO Concerto with the NY Philharmonic (Mitropoulos) has an amazing delicacy and restraint. It's heartfelt without being excessive in any way.

I wish I could say that it's available on CD, but I don't know. I have worn out my vinyl copy, it's so dog-gone good.

February 15, 2005 at 05:36 PM · I found this marvellous recording on CD:

Biddulph 80209.

February 15, 2005 at 11:37 PM · And the reason I brought this up:

The French sound, contrary to some statements made here, doesn't have to do with Impressionist music, (nor does Faure). The French had their sound long before that.

February 16, 2005 at 12:11 AM · Greetings,

yep. I had thta in mind as well. Why do we somehow associate `Frenchness` with airy fairy paintings of women eating strawberrys on the Seine on a hot summers day?

Why not revolution, dashing boldness, the swish of the guillotine and so forth?



February 16, 2005 at 12:58 AM · Well, because the French nationalists (who, I agree, shouldn't properly be called "impressionists") looked back to light, courtly, rococo precedents that seemed to represent the innate spirit of French culture, intentionally in opposition to the perceived German seriousness of Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, Brucker, etc that was so stifling during the 19th century. Think of how few Gallic symphonies emerged during the period compared to the Central European output; I only think of Berlioz's, Franck's, S-S and Bizet.

So, their model was Couperin, Rameau, and the other clavecinistes. One musical example is the clear, declamatory, syllabic mode of Operatic writing adopted by Debussy -- he is looking back to Lully and Gluck, and intentionally avoiding the melismas and grand leaps found in Bel Canto or in Wagner. This was done also in art, looking back to decorative arts of the 18th century to forge a self-consciously national school. The Franco-Prussian War and Wagner's vociferous Francophobia had a lot to do with this definition of Frenchness in opposition to German romanticism, I think.

The Revolution itself didn't produce too much music that is remembered today; I think of Gossec but that's about it. And really, Gossec isn't a big name.

I guess I mean to say that Pelléas was self-consciously NOT Tristan; it was French and was meant to sound it. I think it is possible to acknowledge the great French Romantics like Berlioz and Saint-Saens while ackolwedging the existence of a historicist, truly French sound around the turn of the 20th century.

NB the preceding was a disorganized rant, but you get my drift.

February 16, 2005 at 02:10 AM · Greetings,

my tongue in cheek reference wa s not so much to the music of the revolution (or that msuic utilized by the revolting) but rather the notion that no particular period in a country`s history shold necessarily be assumed to define the whole musical ethos /timbre or whatever of that nation.

I would get rather bored lsitening to revolutionary songs at a Wigmore Hall series entitled ` The French Sound- a year long festival of anti-borgeouis rhetoric and melody`



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