Four virile and beautiful
concertos by Tomasi in excellent radio-originated
recordings from 1964 to 1985.
Henri Tomasi was born
in Provence of Corsican parentage. He
was best known during the period 1927-1956
as a conductor of orchestras in France,
Germany, Holland and Switzerland. A
road accident in 1952 gradually brought
his music director role to an end. He
felt ambivalent about his prominence
as conductor regretting the time lost
to concertising but prizing the skills
he gained in orchestration and also
pleased no doubt that his conducting
delivered a measure of financial self-sufficiency.
Tomasi's output covers
some 130 opus numbers including grand
opera, song, film music, the mass, the
concerto and the symphony. While conducting
held centre-stage it did not obliterate
his composition activity. From 1938
he, for example, wrote concertos for
trumpet, horn, flute, clarinet, bassoon,
oboe and violin. I have already mentioned
the Requiem Pour la Paix (1944)
but there are also the monodrama Silence
de la mer (Vercors), the ballet
Noces de Cendre and the a
capella songs dating from his last
years, Chants Corses. Among the
operas for which high fame is claimed
are Don Juan de Mañara
(Milosz - a subject that also drew a
grand opera from another fine conductor-composer,
Eugene Goossens), L'Atlantide (Pierre
Benoït) and Ulysse (Giono);
the latter a work related to the Violin
Concerto. He was working on an opera
on Hamlet at the time of his
death in 1971.
His music, as represented
by these four concertos, is voluptuous
with incident, dramatic, turbulent with
virile life and melody. Listening to
this 80 minute sequence I was struck
by various parallels that may help you
orientate your interest and expectations.
There is Berg for a start - Tomasi does
not avoid dissonance although one is
not aware of an indigestible struggle.
It is an incidental to a sensual language.
There is a Mediterranean opulence which
never degenerates into density or clutter.
Strangely enough the Walton of the violin
concerto is a good parallel as is the
Szymanowski of the violin concertos.
There is a Ravel-like clarity in the
way Tomasi lays out the textures and
laces melody through them. Vital Stravinskian
rhythmic drive weaves in and out of
these pieces. It would be intriguing
to find out whether Tomasi actually
recorded anything commercially. If so
were Ravel, Stravinsky or Szymanowski
in his discography?
The Lorca Guitar
Concerto does no violence to the
accustomed soul of the guitar. How could
it with that grandee of the instrument,
Alexandre Lagoya, the dedicatee, involved.
Much of it is quiet with flurries and
jostling, packed with Iberian-flavoured
incident and with the guitar both virtuosically
athletic and renewingly poetic as in
the sombre dignity of the second movement.
Pace the liner notes this piece
stays closely, though not subserviently,
in touch with the Spanish vocabulary
established by Rodrigo. This is spliced
with some dissonance, with Malcolm Arnold's
most seriously poetic style and with
a Ravelian transparency. The Spring
Flute Concerto is along similar
lines but is more nostalgic and with
less anxiety than in the Guitar Concerto
and with a greater tendency to flit
and skitter between incidents rather
than explore a long lyrical line. Bergian
dissonance is inherent in the background
orchestral canvas. Percussion interjections
and Stravinskian rhythms keep the music
flowing. The Hispanic gestures of the
Seguidilla and the Havanaise
thread through the Nocturne.
The skittering allegro giocoso
is all over in under four minutes. Rampal
gave the premiere in Marseille with
the orchestra conducted by Serge Baudo.
The single movement harp Ballade
is a memento of a summer in Scotland.
This is a slender fantasy piece masterfully
and minimalistically orchestrated for
string orchestra and wind trio of oboe,
clarinet and bassoon. It is like a hyper-coloured
version of Sibelius's The Bard and
Debussy's Danse Sacré et Danse
Profane yet with more incident and
a freer approach to linking unrelated
but completely beguiling ideas. Its
variety and fantastic character are
The Violin Concerto
was written after repeated encouragement
from Erlih and was reshaped in discussion
with the young violinist. The work can
be thought of as meshing the sonority
and harmony of the William Schuman concerto
(with which it shares an atmosphere)
with those of Walton and Prokofiev.
The dramatic sign-off of the first movement
is punctuated with percussion volleys.
The oppressive and moody andante
sings disconsolately and in anguish
- even crooning in the same mood at
2.54. The allegro sprints off
excited, meteoric whooping. The applause
is well deserved.
The disc is well documented
in French and English with a good introductory
essay by Gabriel Vialle, an interview
with Devy Erlih in which Erlih offers
detailed insights into his relationship
with Tomasi and about their collaboration
over the concerto and Jean-Yves Bras's
notes on these four concertos. I have
plundered these notes for this review.
Where I take issue with the late M.
Vialle is in his statement that Tomasi
can be said to have been rediscovered
as a composer from a triumphant tribute
concert in l'Abbaye de St Victor, in
Marseille, in April 1995. In fact a
great deal was going on among people
exploring the repertoire through the
exchange of tape recordings from 1978
Further details about
Tomasi can be found in my review
of the Requiem pour la paix (1945)
on Marco Polo 8.225067. When I reviewed
that disc in 1999 I asked for more Tomasi
CDs. We still need a recording of the
Symphonie du Tiers Monde (as
grittily and furiously challenging as
Joly Braga Santos's Fifth Symphony also
troubled by the turbulence shaking a
proud colonial nation) but now here
is the Violin Concerto together with
three other concertos.
All credit to Lyrinx
and Claude Tomasi for side-stepping
the Trumpet Concerto (already recorded
on Sony by Wynton Marsalis). Instead
Lyrinx have trawled radio archives far
and wide and have come up with a disc
that will securely hold the Tomasi stage
for a long time to come.
Take this review as
one memento of a family holiday in Rouen
in December 2003. This disc was in the
recent release bins in FNAC at Euros
I am pleased to join
Lyrinx in thanking Françoise
Rampal and Devy Erlih for permitting
the release of the concertos for flute
and for violin and also to Radio-Croatia
for the permission for the guitar concerto.
Having heard this generously compiled
disc I think you might want to also.
I would want as many
people as possible to hear this music
which is cut from the finest imaginative
cloth of the last century. It is extraordinary
to think that all four works date from
May there be more Tomasi
discs. Perhaps Lyrinx and Claude Tomasi
can collaborate to liberate more radio
tapes from the world's archives.