Prélude, choral et fugue

At a stunning recital on Friday in the National City Christian Church in Washington, DC, pianist Yvonne Chen reminded me of a fugue’s Latin roots: coming from the Latin fuga, flight. A fugue initially introduces a lone subject, and all the entering subsequent parts chase it, imitating what it has already announced. As Ebenezer Prout authoritatively defines it, a fugue is founded on “the idea that one part starts on its course alone, and that those which enter later are pursuing it.” 

Chen closed her program of French composers with César Franck’s Prélude, choral et fugue, a masterwork of fervent tranquility. Composed in 1884, the work came to be in the midst of an intensely creative shift in Franck’s work toward the end of his life, and it shows in the complex phrase structures, the shifts between form, the bend of certain harmonic rules that, over the course of its movements, drive sensation to a pitch. Under Chen’s deft fingers, the delicate balance between control and abandon was pristine–a yearningly profound flight to the end to catch its subject.

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