Louise Dubin, The Franchomme Project (Delos)
Like most cellists, Louise Dubin was familiar with a few early caprices and études by August Franchomme. After trekking to the French National Library's music department in Paris, Louise quickly discovered those little pieces were merely stepping stones to an entire treasure trove of long-lost works by this renowned 19th century cellist and composer. "And as it turned out, there's so much more besides the études and caprices that have been out of print," Louise explains. "Pieces that are equally as good in my opinion, so getting copies of these from libraries and finally going to the Library of France and copying them and photographing some other ones that I couldn't find anywhere else, it's sort of like being a kid in a candy shop! I mean, it's all this great cello music that I've never heard before, I've never heard of it before, it's never been recorded, so it was quite exciting."
August Franchomme was an orchestral cellist and a chamber musician. He played in the orchestras of all three Parisian opera houses; he was a teacher; and he was appointed solo cellist to the King in 1832. That was also the year he met Frederic Chopin. After Franz Liszt introduced these two musicians, they became longtime chamber partners, friends and one another's inspiration. Louise says that's evident in the unusual bowings and fingerings you might see in the early editions of Franchomme's music. Some of these fingerings are very similar to those you may see in Chopin's piano pieces. "Franchomme's fingerings break many rules that I was taught," Louise explains. "For example, he'll use a thumb or a harmonic on a long lyrical note in a melody which means you can't vibrate on it, or not easily anyway. And he'll have slides all over the place, up and down, often consecutively. But at the same time, if you read contemporary critics of his work, he's known as one of the most tasteful, clean, refined players of his era. He was very famous for his incredible intonation, his beautiful sound … critics said that his compositions were written in very good taste. He's been a great teacher for me because he has opened up some new styles of playing for me.
"It's very accessible music," Louise continues. "I discovered before I made this recording through my concerts that audiences really respond to it. He has at least 50 original works and at least 50 transcriptions of pieces by other composers, especially Chopin. He transcribed a lot of Chopin's solo piano works for various cello combos, cello quartet, cello and piano most often."
The Nocturnes by Franchomme are some of Louise's favorites on this recording. The Nocturne No. 1, Opus 14, is so beautiful, she says it's astonishing that it's never been recorded before. "I'm not aware of any nocturnes like that that have been composed for the cello before Franchomme's," Louise says. "He wrote nine of them for cello duo and cello and piano. And Franchomme wrote his when he knew Chopin so I'm sure Chopin was an influence on those pieces and I think they're some of Franchomme's best."
The Funeral March from Chopin's Sonata No. 2, Op. 35, is another work Franchomme truly loved. "There's a manuscript I saw which I think is that beautiful major middle section for cello and piano. And we know actually that there was a memorial concert a year after Chopin died in which Franchomme played just that middle section, the melody, by himself in a church at that memorial concert."
August Franchomme is often known just as a footnote in history, as the dedicatee of Chopin's last work, the Sonata for Cello and Piano. Thanks to Louise Dubin and The Franchomme Project, he's now taking his turn in the spotlight in a somewhat unassuming way. "After reading a lot of his letters and reading about how he performed, his music seems to mirror his personality," Louise says. "Suave and elegant and tasteful and sincere. His pieces don't often end with a bang almost every piece on this recording ends quietly."