Cesar Franck – Redemption (excerpts from 2nd Half) – ORTF Choir, Opera Orchestra – Clara Newman, mezzo-soprano – Eugène Bigot, conductor – French Radio broadcast – circa 1963 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Over to Paris this weekend for the music of Cesar Franck as performed by the ORTF Choir and Opera Orchestra, along with mezzo-Soprano Clara Newman, all under the direction of Eugène Bigot in this circa 1963 broadcast recording.
Cesar Franck is certainly not an obscure or neglected composer. Not by a long shot, and even though his Redémption, a piece for choir, mezzo-soprano and orchestra isn’t that often performed, it has still been recorded and is considered part of a celebrated body of work.
The focus of this post is that of the performer, the noted and somewhat overlooked conductor and composer Eugène Bigot, whose work went from approximately 1929 until the late 1950s.
Probably the best assessment of Bigot’s career is written by his son Jean-Pierre for the Music et Memoria website. This is a small extract from that much bigger and thorough biography:
From the start of his career, he highlighted a set of qualities rarely found in the same conductor: the rhythm pegged to the body, the absolute ear, the exact sense of tempo, the right appreciation of the sound volumes, the concern permanent of the nuances to which he brought all his care, the outstanding music writer that he was approached all repertoires with the same requirement and an equal safety. He also had this very particular and essential gift, which in the jargon of the profession is called “the arm”: his direction was distinguished by the clarity of the beat, the variety, the precision and the elegant sobriety of the gestures.
But if the economy and the singular efficiency of his movements were surprising, this flawless technique only took its price because he put it at the service of a high conception of his role as interpreter, which in his eyes the mission consisted exclusively in translating everything without betraying anything, serving the authors and not using them; and that implied first of all a humble but scrupulous respect for the explicit wishes of the composer, whether classical or modern: according to him, a score had nothing less than testamentary value. He was certainly not the man to modify his interpretation according to his moods or external circumstances; he only adapted his technique to the kind of orchestra he was in charge of, as well as to the type of performance, depending on whether it was an indoor or studio concert or a theatrical performance, a large national group or a more modest provincial ensemble. If asked how to “interpret” such a page, he invariably replied: “You just have to play what is written”; it was a joke only to the extent that he wanted at that time to ignore the imprecision, ambiguity, even the absence of indications so commonly encountered in scores, and which then seek other resources of the’interpreter ; but it was essentially the statement of a dogma and a work program that left no room for fantasy.
Some, pretending to believe that this rigor prevented the sensitivity of the conductor or the expressiveness of his musicians from appearing, wanted to reduce him to a “good technician”: however, if he scrupulously attached himself to the letter of the text , it was precisely to render its spirit just as faithfully: in turn lyrical, picturesque, delicate, dramatic, the music which, through its orchestra, came to life under his baton, appears in all the colors that concealed the partitions. Others caricatured him as a fanatical slave of the metronome, even though his formidable technical rigor, and partly metronomic, was subtly “humanized”, that is to say, put into perspective, since it was a man, and not a machine, which transmitted it to instrumentalists, and not to robots.
In concert, he was also sometimes criticized for directing too exclusively for his orchestra, not enough for the public; Admittedly there was never in his direction much room for the personal effects or the blush, and although always inhabited by the rhythm, he was not of those who think that the Waltzde Ravel must dance to be well played or better appreciated … And what would he have thought of having – as often today – driving under the inquisitive eye of ubiquitous cameras, intended for a public composed more spectators than listeners ?! But he made fun of not being very “media” (as we did not say of his time): priority, he gave it to the work and its musicians responsible for restoring a partition in all its rich and complex truth; and it was not a small challenge when that amounted sometimes to frankly thwart the habits of the performers and to shake up the comfort of listening to the public, and to the critics; in any case, he remained steadfast in his musical convictions, thus giving the public the pledge of authenticity that he felt he owed, and living composers, beyond the test of truth that they awaited, the guarantee of being ideally served. The results he always achieved, as well as the massive public support proved that his design was right, but the music lovers probably never imagined either the importance or the quality of the work provided in rehearsal, before these impeccable and exciting performances. .
All you need to do now is sit back and enjoy the broadcast.