Notes and Editorial Reviews
24 Intermezzi. Petite Suite. Valse-Impromptu
Eliane Reyes (pn)
NAXOS 8.572266 (56: 59)
Like several other prominent composers—Shostakovich and Prokofiev come to mind—Alexandre Tansman trained as a concert pianist. Although winning three of the top prizes in Poland’s
1919 Composers’ Competition put paid to that idea, he never abandoned the instrument. Throughout his life he returned to it, with both solo and concerted works.
The archaic title
, like Ravel’s
Le Tombeau de Couperin
, was no doubt a deliberate evocation of the past when confronted with a present that threatened everything the composer held dear. Ravel wrote his collection during World War I (indeed, he served as a driver at the Verdun front), while Tansman’s was completed in 1940. Released in four “books” (another nod to the past) of six pieces each, they were dedicated to close friends: Salvador de Madariaga, former chief of the Disarmament Section of the League of Nations, and librettist of Tansman’s opera
Le Toison d’or
; Jean Marietti, CEO of Editions Max Eschig; composer Marcel Mihalovici; and Charlie Chaplin, who had previously received the dedication of the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1927. (It was Chaplin who suggested the Tansman family leave Paris and resettle in Nice at that time, and who arranged a U.S. visa when they felt compelled to leave France in 1941.)
But where Ravel uses musical structures, ornamentation, and modal harmonies to invoke the past, Tansman has only a fitful interest in this. A more apt musical comparison might be made with Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, given the disparity between the shortest (:47) and longest (4:38) of these works, and their wide-ranging styles and moods. No. 11, for example, is a canonic meditation that recalls Bach, but No. 12 is a leaden, reiterative march over a menacing ostinato bass. No. 5 brings to mind Poulenc at his most lyrically somber, though a theme very much like a Polish folk song appears toward the end, while No. 6 is a pointillistic fugue that flirts heavily with tonality, while never quite reaching the goal of announcing the bans. No. 20 is a stamping dance whose manner may be Stravinsky out of
, but whose cheerful, earthy vigor is entirely Tansman’s own. No. 22 is a skittish, more abstract dance, its kinship with the Bartók quartets of the late 1920s apparent. Each piece is distinctive, and despite calling upon the compositional styles of friends and colleagues, Tansman’s own brand of lucid, expressive neoclassicism is always evident.
is a collection of seven miniatures completed in 1919, and thus written before the composer moved to Paris. The style and emotional ambit are reminiscent of early Debussy (“Berceuse,” “Méditation,” “Scherzino”) and Ravel (“Petite Chanson polonaise,” “Plainte orientale,” “Caprice”), though the nonfunctional chords under the tonal theme in “Vision” may be the most prescient of the works, insofar as Tansman’s future was concerned. Finally, the
of 1940 is a miniature singlet that again recalls Ravel, but with far greater sophistication than in the
, and adding a slight smile of friendly parody.
Eliane Reyes is a new name to me. She’s in her mid-30s, a chamber performer and soloist, who has also taught at the Paris Conservatory for the last five years. Her technique is certainly equal to the task of the more formidable intermezzi that were written for a pianist of Tansman’s own virtuosic skill. The Bartók-like brutality of No. 18 never becomes mere hammering, but instead is a study in balanced sonority. No. 23, a muted study titled “Hommage à Brahms,” reveals both a discreet range of colors and a refined sense of rubato. The phrasing of the Fauré-like No. 7 arises naturally from within the music, rather than sitting on top of it; the fugue in No. 6 is performed with notable articulation and even-handed playing. I could imagine other approaches to this music—a more frenzied No. 6, for example, or a less incisive, more rounded No. 11—but not a better one. This is fine music-making, exactly suited to its task, without superfluous flourishes.
What makes this album still more attractive is that it avoids duplication with Margaret Fingerhut’s sensitively rendered recital of Tansman (Chandos 10527) that I reviewed in 2009. In short, fans of Tansman will certainly want this release.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
For a prolific composer who led such a long and interesting life, Tansman's music remains surprisingly neglected. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that the very best of that music is not to be found in his piano compositions, many of which were collections of miniatures - of which the
Petite Suite featured here is a good example.
Whilst the Suite and the
Valse-Impromptu are little more than bagatelles, the
24 Intermezzi constitute an important work, and deserve a place in the repertoire of any pianist, and in the heart and mind of every pianophile. Tansman composed the
Intermezzi in four books of six, and they are best heard that way, at separate sittings, to allow the listener to appreciate fully the differences hidden behind the almost jokey title. And there
are differences: in mood, tempo, virtuosity ... in so many ways, in fact, that the listener will find several contenders for favourites in each of the books.
These works were written in troubled times after the outbreak of World War II, yet this is not dark, grim music, by any means; nor is it particularly Polish or French; like Chopin, Tansman was a Pole who spent most of his life in France. It
is profound, however; distantly reminiscent of Chopin's 24 Preludes in many places (try
No.8, for example), but in its 20th century context sounding more like a curious mixture of Skriabin, Fauré, Szymanowski, Prokofiev and, for good measure, Granados.
Petite Suite is a collection of seven very short pieces - five come in at well under a minute. The
Valse-Impromptu is another very short work, appealing in a Gershwin-type way, but, like the Suite, with little about it that demands more than a single hearing.
Though few of the works on this CD are particularly difficult, there is still ample scope for artistry, of which Eliane Reyes has plenty. There are no real comparisons to be made, however, because the
Intermezzi and the
Petite Suite are world première recordings.
Neither the piano nor the recording are without their faults: the piano is very closely miked and a little too often mechanical noise is clearly audible, at least through headphones, and particularly in the
No.8 in particular it is quite maddening.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Intermezzi (24) by Alexandre Tansman
Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Petite Suite by Alexandre Tansman
Eliane Reyes (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
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