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Henri Tomasi: Divertimento Corsica; Oboenkonzert; Fagottkonzert; Klarinettenkonzert

Romasi / German Strings / Trio D'anches / Tardy
Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Farao   Catalog #: 108062   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Henri Tomasi
Performer:  Nicolas ThiebaudChristian KunertRupert Wachter
Conductor:  Olivier Tardy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hamburg Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TOMASI Divertimento Corsica. Oboe Concerto. Bassoon Concerto. Clarinet Concerto Olivier Tardy, cond; Nicolas Thiébaud (ob); Christian Kunert (bsn); Rupert Wachter (cl); German Strings FARAO 108062 (65:43)

Of Italian descent, Henri Tomasi (1901–71) was born in Marseille, and except for summers spent with his grandmother in Corsica, mainland France remained his lifelong home. The outbreak of World War I delayed Tomasi’s plans to enter the Paris Conservatory until 1921. Read more Once enrolled there, however, he made rapid progress, studying with Vincent d’Indy, among others. In the 1930s, along with Prokofiev, Poulenc, Milhaud, and Honegger, Tomasi founded a music group named “Triton,” dedicated to encouraging the composition of new chamber works. World War II interrupted his career again in 1939 when he was drafted into the French Army, but only briefly, for he was discharged a year later, whereupon he took over the podium of the French National Orchestra.

His work list contains numerous concertos, mainly for wind and brass instruments, which Tomasi favored, but his primary passion was for the theater. In 1944, he began work on a Requiem dedicated to “the martyrs of the resistance movement and all those who have died for France.” But the war had so shaken his faith in God and man that he apparently abandoned work on it—the piece was not uncovered and recorded until 1996—turning his efforts to opera. By now an avowed atheist and pacifist, Tomasi would write stage works that were political statements about Nazism, nuclear weapons, napalm, and Vietnam. Who doesn’t love a good atheist/pacifist every now and then? But politics and music tend not to make the best bed partners.

Tomasi’s music is an eclectic mix of just about anything and everything except for the hardcore avant-garde. To quote the composer himself, “Although I haven’t shirked from using the most modern forms of expression, I’ve always been a melodist at heart. I can’t stand systems and sectarianism. I write for the public at large. Music that doesn’t come from the heart isn’t music.” The “modern forms of expression” Tomasi alludes to would seem to embrace the French modernists of the 1920s and 1930s (Les Noveaux Jeunes and Les Six), native folk songs of Provence and Corsica (as in the Divertimento Corsica on the present disc), and musical elements from Far Eastern, North African, and Polynesian cultures, as far flung as Cambodia, Laos, the Sahara, and Tahiti. Also included in Tomasi’s polyracial, musical polyglotism are medieval chant, Oriental recitative, and, to a limited degree, 12-tone techniques. Rarely, if ever though, do all of these elements converge within a single work, and in the works we have at hand, the more exotic elements are entirely absent.

My personal reaction is that in these particular works Tomasi, as the above quote explicitly states, is motivated and driven primarily by a strong melodic impulse. This suggests that whatever technical devices, overlays, or underlays Tomasi may apply to his music, at its core is a lyrical voice that the listener immediately perceives and responds to. This, no doubt, explains why, for a modern composer, Tomasi has made it into the mainstream, not just in terms of the number of his works that have been recorded, but by the name artists, conductors, and ensembles that have assimilated his works into their repertoires. Stephen Hough, for example, has recorded Tomasi’s Danses profanes et sacrées with the Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet, saxophonist Theodore Kerkezos recorded the composer’s aforementioned Ballade with the London Philharmonic, and celebrated trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, in concert with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded Tomasi’s Trumpet Concerto. This would indicate that Tomasi’s music has wide audience appeal and is able to rack up fairly profitable box office and record sales receipts.

The happy summers Tomasi spent with his grandmother on the French-administered island of Corsica are reflected in his Divertimento Corsica , a four-movement suite depicting, through Corsican folk melodies and dances, scenes of the countryside, a village cemetery surrounded by cypresses swaying gently in the breeze, and, at the end, a lively fair with a melee of street jugglers, children, and peasants with their animals. Written in 1952, the piece, especially in its concluding movement, has about it a whiff of Stravinsky’s “Shrovetide Fair” music from Petrushka , but it’s not as dissonant or modernistic.

Of the three concertos on the disc, two of them—those for clarinet and bassoon—were commissioned by the Paris Conservatory as entry audition pieces. The Oboe Concerto—written in 1959 at the same time as the composer’s one-act ballet Jabadao , dedicated to Igor Markevitch—is based on the same musical material but reshaped into an extended 17-minute single movement concerted work and downsized in scoring from full- to chamber-sized orchestra. Based as it is on the music to a ballet, the piece tells a story. Its plot involves a “Goth Girls’ Club” of tradition-flouting punker types who steal away from one religious ceremony to go practice their own, a satanic ritual, in the woods. The established order, of course, must be restored, which it is at the end when a wrathful God turns the stoned-out devil rappers to actual stone. The narrative behind the music, once revealed, tends to render the piece more of a symphonic tone poem with oboe obbligato than a concerto, but in light of the significant role played by the oboe, Tomasi felt more comfortable calling the work a concerto.

To the best of my knowledge, this Farao CD is the only current listing for the Divertimento Corsica , the Oboe Concerto, and the Bassoon Concerto, though none is claimed to be a world premiere recording. The Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, however, does have at least one competitor in the form of a Dux CD featuring clarinetist Jean-Marc Fessard and the strings of the Poznan Philharmonic. I wish I could claim familiarity with it, but I can’t.

Both the clarinet and bassoon concertos of 1957 and 1961, respectively, are in a traditional three-movement, fast-slow-fast layout. The clarinet work is scored for a strings-only ensemble, but at approximately 19 minutes in duration, it’s about three minutes longer than the Bassoon Concerto, which I gather is scored for a somewhat more diversely constituted chamber orchestra, though the disc names no ensemble other than the German Strings.

Beginning with a perky Allegro giocoso ever so slightly reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf —maybe it’s just the wide-leaping clarinet solo at the outset that conjures up the image—Tomasi’s lyrical impulse comes to the fore at around 2:40 in what I gather is the movement’s second theme, a beautiful, romantic melody that is heard again even more lushly in the strings about a minute later. The whole movement is a delight from beginning to end. The Nocturne movement that follows is exquisitely calm on the surface, but stirrings and little shivers beneath the surface in the strings lend an eerie, slightly sinister cast to the proceedings, recalling some of Bartók’s “night music.” The Scherzo finale returns us to the jocular mood of the first movement with another beautiful contrasting lyrical melody that for a passing bar or two reminds me of the gorgeous clarinet solo in the Adagio movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. And here I thought Tomasi was a “modern” composer, but some of his music is about as romantic as you can get. The Clarinet Concerto may just be a masterpiece.

The Bassoon Concerto, in my opinion, doesn’t quite rise to the masterpiece level of the Clarinet Concerto. It may be that the bassoon, which plays such a crucial role in the orchestra, is not the most versatile or expressive instrument when cast in a solo capacity. Perhaps that’s part of the problem, or it may also be partly due to my sense that Tomasi was not as inspired here as he was four years earlier in the Clarinet Concerto. Pleasantries aside, what’s absent from the Bassoon Concerto are the melodic gestures and rhythmic shapes that make any piece of music memorable.

I cannot begin to describe how superb these solo musicians are. Each of these gentlemen—Nicolas Thiébaud, Christian Kunert, and Rupert Wachter—is a section principal in the Hamburg Philharmonic, and under the corporate name of Trio d’Anches Hamburg (“trio of reeds”) they perform together in chamber works by Haydn, Mozart, Poulenc, Françaix, and others. Most of the music on this disc will win you over on first hearing with its unpretentious charm and prepossessing beauty. The performances are as fine as one could hope for, and the recording is in the A+ category. What else do you need to motivate you to acquire this release ASAP?

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Divertimento Corsica, for orchestra by Henri Tomasi
Conductor:  Olivier Tardy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hamburg Trio
Written: 1952 
Date of Recording: 08/2010 
Venue:  Church of Saint-Amant-Roche-Savine, Fran 
Length: 11 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Concerto for Oboe by Henri Tomasi
Performer:  Nicolas Thiebaud (Oboe)
Conductor:  Olivier Tardy
Written: 1959 
Date of Recording: 08/2010 
Venue:  Church of Saint-Amant-Roche-Savine, Fran 
Length: 17 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Concerto for Bassoon by Henri Tomasi
Performer:  Christian Kunert (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Olivier Tardy
Written: 1961 
Date of Recording: 08/2010 
Venue:  Church of Saint-Amant-Roche-Savine, Fran 
Length: 16 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Concerto for Clarinet by Henri Tomasi
Performer:  Rupert Wachter (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Olivier Tardy
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1956; France 
Date of Recording: 08/2010 
Venue:  Church of Saint-Amant-Roche-Savine, Fran 
Length: 19 Minutes 2 Secs. 

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