Discovering Works of César Franck
An Interview With Ingmar Lazar

Ingmar Lazar, the founder of Festival du Bruit qui Pense, is a leading French pianist. He is set to release an album featuring four sets of pieces by César Franck. The album opens with an unpublished sonata written by Franck at age 13, followed by a seldom-recorded Grand Caprice and two great piano works, Prélude, Choral et Fugue, and Prélude, Aria et Finale. The album pays tribute to Lazar’s grandmother, Sculptor Marie-Maxence Gibani, who passed away two years ago. Lazar discusses the album and his relationship with his grandmother in this interview.

César Franck: Piano Works – Ingmar Lazar album cover

César Franck: Piano Works – Ingmar Lazar © David Baghdasaryan

César Franck: Piano Sonata No. 1 – I. Larghetto, allegro moderato

How did you discover Franck’s unpublished sonata? It was written when he was only 13, did you find the work was different compared to his other works?

I discovered the existence of this Sonata at the BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) in Paris, where the manuscript of this work is being kept. It is fascinating to see the evolution of his musical language, and therefore this Sonata is immensely interesting. One couldn’t recognize Franck by listening to this work if one would do a blind test, but it is indeed exceptional to think that he wrote it at the age of 13.

It is a very charming work, full of various moods and contrasts, and the extremely touching second movement seems to me to be clearly influenced by Schubert, a composer who was very dear to Franck as he made later transcriptions of four of his Lieder for solo piano.

César Franck: Grand Caprice

What made you decide to record an album featuring Franck’s works? Were there any challenges in preparing the music for the recording?

Ingmar Lazar at the piano

Ingmar Lazar © David Baghdasaryan

The first work that I have ever performed by César Franck was his Piano Quintet, for which I immediately had an extremely strong fascination, and this has made me want to explore his solo works. Apart from the Prélude, Choral et Fugue which is a benchmark in the piano repertoire, his other works for piano are very unjustly rarely performed, such as the Prélude, Aria et Final, and even less known are the works from his youth. All these facts have made me imagine this program, as my idea was to embark on the composer’s life journey and discover the facets of his various creative periods.

César Franck: Prélude, Aria et Final – Final

This specific program is challenging in the sense that Franck’s music has to be played in a highly expressive and passionate manner, yet the spiritual character of the music wouldn’t allow any superfluous effects. One should also always find a way to give unity to his work as one can get easily lost in its details and its harmonic richness.
And regarding the technical aspect of these works, the clarity of the polyphony and the balance play a crucial role. César Franck had a very large hand, and a certain number of passages can seem very uncomfortable.

The album cover features one of the images of your grandmother’s (Marie-Maxence Gibani) work. Do you have a close relationship with your grandmother? How do her artworks influence your musical studies? Did you choose Madonna (among her other works) as the cover?

Ingmar Lazar with his grandmother Sculptor Marie-Maxence Gibani

Ingmar Lazar with his grandmother Sculptor Marie-Maxence Gibani

I remember from my earliest age seeing my grandmother working on her sculptures, and she was the very first artist that I could witness in the process of creation. I was indeed extremely close to her, and at the age of fourteen, as I went to pursue my musical studies in Hannover (Germany), she came to live there with me for the first two years I lived there. She also attended my concerts as often as she could. My grandmother passed away two years ago, and I wanted to pay her tribute with this CD.

Regarding the choice of this specific sculpture, I have actually made it together with David Baghdasaryan who is the photographer of the cover, as we believed that the Madonna suits particularly well the religious character of César Franck’s music.

César Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue – Choral

Do you have any performances coming up that you want to share with us?

Ingmar Lazar with a small toy piano

© David Baghdasaryan

I will be having a series of recitals for the release of this CD which will take me to Spain (Sala Luis Galve of the Auditorium of Zaragoza – October 9), France (Salle Cortot in Paris – October 18), and Germany (Villa Musica, Schloss Engers in Neuwied – November 10). I will also be performing a series of duo recitals (which will include on the programme Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano) together with violinist Benjamin Herzl in Austria in November, and with violinist Christoph Seybold in France in December.

The album will be released on September 1st, 2023. Learn more about Ingmar Lazar and his upcoming performances.

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