The French Franck
Selected comparisons: Stokowski/1927; Ormandy/1956 (both with the Philadelphia Orchestra and also available as ClassicsOnline downloads); Paray/1959.
This present recording is the earlier of Paray's two recordings (both were made in Detroit, originally for Mercury Records, the later in stereo).
Paray had the knack of drawing very idiomatic playing from his orchestras and so we have here the advantage of French character being combined with North American orchestral virtuosity. Although there is little to choose between either Paray version, the present recording is the more taut. Here, the tempo changes in the first movement feel more natural and the playing in general has slightly more bite. Strings are lyrical and the playing has a tremendous sense of sweep and urgency.
Stokowski in 1927 takes a completely different approach. His preceding spoken outline illustrates what is to come - 'a symphony of the mystical and dreamworld'. Broad, spacious, wayward tempi, but all irresistible and of course, fabulously played by the Philadelphians.
Ormandy took over from Stokowski in Philadelphia and recorded the Franck Symphony at least three times. His 1956 recording has much to commend it: Ormandy followers will undoubtedly respond to this. However, whilst the playing is again virtuosic, this is arguably the least characterful of the recordings discussed so far.
Classical collectors will be very familiar with the fact that there are several stereo recordings which have gained almost legendary status over the years: Monteux/Chicago; Maazel/Berlin; Munch/Boston - the list goes on! If readers who already own one or more of these recordings wish to acquire a vintage mono performance, in summary, I would say for:
a 'French Franck' - go for Paray (earlier rec.);
a 'Franck Fantasia' - expore Stokowski (1927)
a 'Not a note out of place but ultimately middle of the road Franck' - Ormandy (1956).
All of these downloads gain from the expert 'transfers' from ClassicsOnline; these are helped by the 320kps mp3 file quality. At such bargain prices, an absolute recommendation would be to download all three recordings - you will actually be richer - not poorer - for it!