> KAUFMANN Cantabilea etc. [HC]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Serge KAUFMANN (born 1930)
Le temps déchiréb
Un matin à Varsoviec
Et si un jourd

Béatrice Barbary (soprano)cd; Anne Holroyd (mezzo-soprano)b; Philippe Pennanguer (cello)a; Serge Kaufmann (speaker)c; Ensemble vocal Marielle Rousseaud; Orchestre Bernard Calmel; Bernard Calmel
Recorded: Studio 49 OSF-Euterpe, Vanves, February 1996
PAVANE ADW 7362 [62:05]
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Serge Kaufmann may be better known, in France at least, as a musical broadcaster and organiser, producer of television broadcasts rather than as a composer. The present release usefully sets the record straight. The works recorded here present Kaufmann as a composer of no mean achievement. His music is fairly traditional, classically poised, neo-classical at times, restrained but highly expressive. It is tuneful, lyrical though not without harmonic tension or mild dissonance when needed. It often recalls, to the present writer at least, Landowski, Honegger and Frank Martin, which incidentally I mean as a compliment. Kaufmann’s music reflects the man’s deeply rooted humanism, also clearly evident in his own texts.

Cantabile, subtitled Three Songs for cello, strings and harpsichord, is a triptych of laments beautifully written for cello which sometimes recalls some sort of up-dated Bloch. This moving work is to my mind one of the finest here.

Le Temps déchiré is a dramatic scena for mezzo-soprano and strings setting a text by the composer reflecting his feelings on his mother’s death. The words are set in a free arioso style throughout with some brief moments in which some Sprechgesang is used.

Elégie for strings is exactly that. A harmonically tense, sorrowful but very expressive processional, not unlike Lutoslawski’s own Musique funèbre. Very moving and beautifully written for strings, though quite classically so.

Un matin à Varsovie is by far the most ambitious piece here, again on a poem by the composer inspired by that world famous photograph taken in Warsaw’s ghetto showing a little boy with too large a cap raising his arms in front of the German soldiers. The impact is quite different from that of Schönberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw for the music here is again full of restraint and more elegiac than dramatic. The piece opens with the speaker reciting the text after which the music takes over till the end of the piece. The speaker re-appears some time later but still reciting the first words of the poem, though now rather as a rhythmic recitation with some support from the percussion. Though undoubtedly sincere, as are all the pieces recorded here, this one seems to me marginally less satisfying and convincing possibly because its material is somewhat more diffuse and slightly rambling. It rather outstays its welcome and might have benefited from a scoring for larger forces. It is nevertheless a quite worthy piece of music, but a good example of the saying that good sentiments do not necessarily make good music. Well worth having anyway.

The last piece in this short cross-selection is something quite different. Et si un jour, subtitled chanson-cantate, is for soprano, small mixed choir and strings (again on a text by the composer). The subtitle actually alludes both to the structure of the piece (three stanzas interspersed with a refrain) and to the simpler, more straightforward word setting. The refrain is sung by the chorus joined by the soprano in the last restatement. Stanza I is for chorus, stanza II for soprano and stanza III for the whole forces. This short work is, to my mind, quite successful because of its global simplicity though the string writing sometimes called Finzi to mind for its harmonic tension whereas the choral writing briefly recalled Frank Martin or Honegger in their simpler vein. This is a very attractive piece of music that should appeal to good amateur choirs though they will have to secure a fine soprano whose part is not that easy to sing to good effect.

These performances, recorded in the composer’s presence, serve the works well. The cellist is really superb and the female soloists are perfectly suited to the music. In short, an attractive survey of Serge Kaufmann’s deeply humane music. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot


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