[ In the Press ]

Claude Frank, Pianist
Admired for Performing Beethoven, Dies at 89

January 7, 2015

New York Times  By Anthony Tommasini

Claude Frank, then 82, performing Schubert at the Morgan Library in New York in 2008. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

Claude Frank, then 82, performing at the Morgan Library in New York in 2008. Credit Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

The American pianist Claude Frank, widely admired for his insightful, sensitive performances of the solo and chamber works of the Germanic masters, and an influential teacher to generations of pianists, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan, three days after turning 89.

The cause was complications of dementia, said his daughter, Pamela Frank, a violinist and his only immediate survivor.

Mr. Frank was a pianist in the tradition of the Austrian-born master Artur Schnabel, with whom he studied in New York. He also greatly valued lessons with the Italian pianist Maria Curcio, another Schnabel devotee.

The hallmarks of Mr. Frank’s playing were clear projection of musical structure, fidelity to the score and poetic refinement.

With few exceptions, he concentrated as a performer on the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Yet, as a teacher, whose students included veteran figures like Richard Goode and rising artists like Benjamin Hochman, Mr. Frank was encouraging of wide-ranging repertory, including contemporary music.

In master classes, he found special pleasure in coaching pieces he did not know.

His performances and recordings of Beethoven were especially distinguished. In conjunction with the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, in 1970, Mr. Frank performed the complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas in a series of eight programs at Hunter College in New York; concurrently, RCA released his recordings of the Beethoven sonatas as a boxed set, a project that earned glowing reviews. The albums were later remastered and reissued, again to high critical praise, by Music & Arts.

At the height of his career, in the 1970s, Mr. Frank was giving some 70 concerts a year, including international tours and concerto performances with orchestras from the Berlin Philharmonic to the San Francisco Symphony.

An active chamber music pianist, he was one of the earliest members of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, which was founded in 1964, and worked regularly with the Juilliard String Quartet and other leading ensembles. He also performed frequently in piano duo with his wife, the pianist Lilian Kallir, born in Prague to Austrian parents. Ms. Kallir died in 2004 at 73.

He performed and recorded repertory for violin and piano with his daughter, Pamela, including Beethoven’s 10 sonatas, recorded in the mid-1990s. As Pamela Frank began to have international success, Mr. Frank would tell colleagues that he and his wife were in awe of their only child. “She has more talent than the both of us combined,” he often said.

Claude Frank was born in Nuremberg, Germany, on Dec. 24, 1925. As the Nazis came to power, his family, which was Jewish, moved to Paris when Mr. Frank was 12. There he studied at the Paris Conservatory. In 1940, as the political situation worsened, Mr. Frank escaped with some family members by way of a hide-out in the Pyrenees, and then Lisbon, where, with help from the Brazilian Embassy, he made it to the United States. During the early 1940s he worked with Schnabel, but his studies were interrupted by his military service, which included seeing action in Japan. He became an American citizen in 1944.

Mr. Frank made his New York recital debut at Times Hall in 1947. A review in The New York Times singled out the “thoughtful insight and unpretentiousness” of his performances of some Schubert impromptus and Beethoven’s late Piano Sonata, Op. 110. The program included Prokofiev’s intense, demanding Piano Sonata No. 7, not a composer he was associated with in later years.

Mr. Frank always considered a recital he gave in 1950 at Town Hall in New York a career milestone. In 2001, at 75, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that performance, he played a nearly identical program at the 92nd Street Y, including Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in A minor, Schubert’s late Sonata in B-flat and Beethoven Sonata No. 32 in C minor, performing with patrician elegance and a palpable spirit of discovery.

As a teacher he had associations with the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Yale School of Music, among others.

Not one to turn down a chance to have some fun, Mr. Frank was one of a roster of international pianists who performed in the Olympic Centenary Piano Extravaganza in China during the 2008 games in Beijing.

COMMENTS ( 0 )