Biography of Franck César:
In the last year of his life, like Johann Sebastian Bach and Brahms before him, César Franck ended his work with organ chorales. But in the three masterly Chorals (as he termed them) Franck raised the genre to an unprecedented degree of structural originality, allied to an emotional tenor which was exceptional. The Second Choral, in B minor, has a unique and fascinating structure: basically, it is in the composer's favourite form of theme with variations, founded upon a passacaglia-type chorale theme, but in this work the variations are split into three groups which are separated by two interludes. The first is a structure which is itself unusual: made up of four elements - theme, an intermezzo, a secondary theme, and a dramatic recitative, a second intermezzo itself recalls elements of the first, and is less intricately written. It may well be that this formal basis has extra-musical provenance, but the music makes excellent sense by itself. In spite of the rather involved structure overall, César Franck's Choral No. 2 is very much a continuous work, a free-flowing form of which the composer had become such a master. Indeed, his mastery and originality in this composition are not always fully acknowledged. Perhaps one reason for this is that the music was written for organ, and this tends to be the province mainly of organ-music specialists.
In order to ensure that the work may be heard by a wider audience, in 1991 Rudolf Lutz made this outstanding and entirely appropriate transcription for string orchestra - a version of which the composer would certainly have approved. This is the premiere recording of this version.