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Tansman: Symphonies Vol 2 / Caetani, Melbourne So

Release Date: 10/23/2007 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5054   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alexandre Tansman
Conductor:  Oleg Caetani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TANSMAN Symphony No. 7, “Lyrique.” Symphony No. 8, “Musique pour orchestra.” Symphony No. 9 Oleg Caetani, cond; Melbourne SO CHANDOS 5054 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 64:37)

This second release in the Melbourne Symphony’s invaluable perusal of the nine symphonies by the deeply cosmopolitan Franco-Pole Alexandre Tansman (1897–1986) demonstrates conclusively that in his postwar years he became an essential member of the Read more second European modernist generation. Impressive as are the three middle symphonies (Nos. 4, 5, and 6) already available on Chandos, this program shows Tansman gathering together all of the vital and ingratiating traits he had perfected during the 1920s and 1930s into a confident and compelling idiom capable of conveying major statements.

But first of all, it is necessary to rebut the critical shibboleth—which annotator Caroline Rae harps upon fulsomely—that Tansman was merely an epigone of Stravinsky, with whom he was admittedly personally quite close. As if any worthwhile composer spending the years between the wars in Paris could help being influenced by the titanic Russian! However, anyone who listens to this music with open ears (and an open mind) would have to concede that its most prominent qualities are purely and unmistakably Tansmanian.

The Seventh Symphony of 1944, as a matter of fact, is dedicated to Stravinsky, but that’s the end of the connection. Although subtitled “Lyrique,” this is not its most salient aspect. As in most of the Tansman symphonies, four movements lasting more or less 20 minutes is a sufficient compass within which Tansman works his transformative wiles, opening (and sometimes closing) with a minute or two of quiet pensiveness before plunging into his characteristically sleek and motoric drive in which one can sometimes faintly discern echoes of Poulenc and Gershwin. Some of the bustling themes make one think of An American in Paris , but instead this is “ A Pole in Paris,” having the time of his life. After an Andante sostenuto slow movement and a Molto vivo Scherzo (both of these also quite typical), the finale moves back and forth between a mournfully reflective Adagio and an invigorating Allegro deciso before falling away into gradual diminishment. (This is what we think the marking Perdendoso means.)

The 1948 Eighth Symphony (the only work here to have been briefly available in a rather dim “live” Dutch performance conducted by Kubelík) was originally titled Music for Orchestra , an indication that during his final decades Tansman would be moving away from strict Classical forms and would even be injecting more atonalish textures into some of his later works. This 22-minute, four-movement symphony is distinguished by a rather austere “Elégie” in memory of the Belgian conductor Franz André and a Molto vivace Scherzo that is full of jazzy offbeats.

Tansman’s Ninth and final effort in the symphony form—though there was to be a piquant Chamber Symphony for oboe, English horn, and chamber symphony during the 1960s—was not commissioned, as were the others, and thus was never heard by the composer. But in this magisterial work Tansman gives us the quintessential Tansman universe in which his trademark industrial-strength ostinato rhythms and his vibrant sectional harmonic shifts and washes of sound reach heights of excitement and ethereality that are alternatively terrifying and exhilarating. The Grave slow movement is one of his most dignified and commemorative, while the scherzo begins Molto vivace but gradually shifts gears into his typical fade-out finish. Though the finale begins Lento, it is quickly overwhelmed by a threatening Allegro con moto molto risoluto double fugue (one of his rare instances of fully developed counterpoint), climaxing in a peroration of complex grandeur. This is Tansman operating at the peak of his powers.

Oleg Caetani and his down-under musicians give this hair-raisingly impetuous but always disciplined music the strongest possible advocacy, with Chandos’s Super Audio engineering adding an ambience and finish of hyperreality. This CD is the best possible introduction to a composer who deserves far wider exposure. The 2008 Want List begins to grow.

FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 "Musique pour orchestre" by Alexandre Tansman
Conductor:  Oleg Caetani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; Paris, France 
Symphony no 7 "Lyrique" by Alexandre Tansman
Conductor:  Oleg Caetani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944 
Symphony no 9 by Alexandre Tansman
Conductor:  Oleg Caetani
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957-1958 

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