Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 2.
Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra.
Rhapsody in Blue
David Greilsammer (pn); Steven Sloane, cond; Frencch RPO
NAÏVE 5224 (64:39)
At first glance the presence of a certified warhorse like the Gershwin
Rhapsody in Blue
on a program otherwise devoted to two startling and remarkable first recordings would indicate lazy programming. But in point of fact the Gershwin turns out to be a very appropriate choice for a disc that sets out to celebrate the commingled Franco-Polish-American ingredients in the teeming multinational creative broth that was 1920s Paris.
The accompanying booklet substantiates these connections with two quotations from Tansman’s unpublished memoirs: one describing his first meeting with an admiring Gershwin after the premiere by the composer himself of this very piano concerto, and the other offering a tribute to his friend Nadia Boulanger’s seminal influence as a teacher on the recent course of postwar music. And it seems Gershwin, upon being introduced to the already venerable instructress, asked her for composition lessons, which she politely turned down by asserting it would spoil a “musical personality already fully formed.” And finally there is included a photo reproduction of an autographed note from Gershwin, thanking Tansman for his “hospitality”.
All this historical background adds weight and significance to this first recording of one of Tansman’ three concertante works for his brilliantly handled instrument (there is a concertino as well as the earlier concerto). By his 30th year, in 1927 Tansman had, during his past eight years residing in the French capital, absorbed all the fertilizing elements he needed to fashion his own already very distinctively unmistakable manner. This utterly fetching and disarmingly cheerful score—which he later brought triumphantly to Koussevitzky’s Boston Symphony—constitutes a cosmopolitan cocktail combining everything from his roots in Polish folklore, i.e., the tender child-like Lento, to the accents deriving from American jazz and typified by Gershwin. And all of this melodious blend is bathed in Tansman’s characteristically radiant harmonic modulations.
With this unexpected recording of Nadia Boulanger’s ambitious and rock-solid Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra of 1912, commissioned and premiered by the famous Raoul Pugno, we are given a rare glimpse into the then-25-year-old’s esthetic and aspirations as a creator in her own right years before she became the legendary facilitator of others’ creativity. This 20-minute work grows directly out of the traditions of the Schola Cantorum, but there are indications of a struggle to transcend these limitations, especially in the thrilling midway transformation of the main theme into a vaulting hymnlike tune that recalls Franck’s
The Accursed Horseman.
But of course Boulanger shows little or no awareness of contemporary milestones such as
composed just a year or so earlier, or even the Florent Schmitt of
La Tragedie de Saolmé.
In the long run the work comes off more as a type of graduation exercise, because it lacks the sustained lyrico-dramatic intensity and individuality of her younger sister Lili’s music and thus confirms Nadia’s decision to travel a different route as a great teacher.
Pianist David Greilsammer, with the support of various non-profit institutions, conceived and nurtured this tribute to the affinities among three outstanding musical personalities from three different countries, and he is in many ways the producer of this exceptional disc. And as soloist he does all three composers proud, negotiating their varied technical challenges with both bravura and finesse. Steven Sloane lends admirable support conducting the phenomenal French Radio Orchestra. This essential release is a definite contender for the 2011 Want List. Don’t pass it by.
FANFARE: Paul A. Snook