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André MATHIEU (1929-1968)
Concerto No. 4 in E minor for Piano and Orchestra (1947) (transcribed from solo recordings; orch. Gilles Bellemare) [41.28]
Scènes de Ballet (1938-1945) [22.04]
Four Songs for Choir and Orchestra (orch. Gilles Bellemare) (1946-1955) [10.44]
Alain Lefèvre (Yamaha CF-III-S piano)
Tucson Symphony Chorus/Bruce Chamberlain
Tucson Symphony Orchestra/George Hanson.
rec. live, 11 May 2008, Music Hall, Convention Center, Tucson, Arizona, USA. DDD
Greg Roraburgh (piano technician)
Notes in English and French
photo of artists; texts and translations
World premiere recording of Concerto No. 4
ANALEKTA AN29281 [74.26]
Experience Classicsonline

Normally I can’t use a comparison recording of a brand new work, but, well, if Anthony Payne can write Elgar’s Third Symphony, André Mathieu/Gilles Bellemare can write Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2½. Why ask silly questions? Just enjoy it. Rachmaninov would; he is reputed to have said that Mathieu was “a genius, more so than I.” Play it for your friends and tell them it’s Rachmaninov; they’ll never catch on.
 
Composer Mathieu, “le petit Mozart canadien,” was born in Montreal, Canada, to musician parents. He was in every way precocious and began writing music very early. In 1946 he went to Paris to study with Honegger, but the association did not flower and upon his return to Montreal in 1947 Mathieu’s mood and health began a steady decline. He wrote much music and played in public a great deal, but did not survive his thirties, the most dangerous years for a composer it would seem, dying of the effects of alcoholism in 1968. Since then he has been something of a Quebeçois hero, his music being played frequently, much of it requiring orchestration after transcription from primitive solo recordings. Gilles Bellemare and Alain Lefèvre have been at the centre of this activity. Conductor Hanson met pianist Lefèvre in Europe more or less accidentally where they collaborated with much success in the Grieg Concerto and subsequently planned these concerts and recordings.
 
This is also the Tucson Symphony’s debut recording, and a very auspicious debut it is indeed. They sound marvellous, and the recorded sound, recorded at 24 bit, is stupendous. Music Director Hanson conducts with tremendous energy; he was a student of Bernstein, has won an award for a recording of Rubinstein, and has worked with the Atlanta Symphony and New York Philharmonic orchestras. He has conducted over 90 orchestras in 19 countries, was Music Director of the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra in Germany, and of the Anchorage Alaska Symphony Orchestra from 1994 to 1999 before coming to Tucson in 1996. Pianist Lefèvre gives us all the huge, rich sound and rhapsodic phrasing required for Rachmaninov … or Mathieu. He has previously recorded Mathieu’s Concerto de Québec on the Analekta label (see his website for more information).
 
The Scènes de Ballet are closer to early Debussy in style and scope; they are engaging but not substantial. The first three, Berceuse, Complaint, Dans les Champs are pastoral pantomimes perhaps leaning towards the style of D’Indy. The fourth, Danse des espiègles, is real dance music with the usual difficulty of being repetitive and sacrificing dramatic substance for keeping a clear beat.
 
The four songs, also somewhat insubstantial, were originally for solo voice, the first one to a poem by the composer, the next two by Paul Verlaine, and the fourth by Jean LaForêt. They are charming and very French in style, the chorus mostly forming an atmospheric background to the instruments, briefly coming forward to make a dramatic statement. Having sung in a chorus, I can tell you that the Tucson Symphony chorus does a fine job with them providing just the vapidity the music deserves. The Concerto is the overriding reason one would buy this disk.
 
This recording would make a fine gift for a friend who likes Rachmaninov and regrets that he didn’t write more music.
 
On the orchestra website, you can watch/listen to a high quality video from the recording session and verify that Steven Moeckel is indeed the concertmaster during these concerts, and that the very energetic Mr. Hanson is the one on the left in the cover picture above, with pianist Lefèvre on the right, contrary to what you might have otherwise supposed.
 
Paul Shoemaker
 

 


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