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Henri TOMASI (1901-1971)
Four Concertos

Violin Concerto Périple d'Ulysse (1963) [22.44]
Flute Concerto Printemps (1966) [20.56]
Guitar Concerto À la mémoire d'un poète assassiné, F.G. Lorca (1969) [24.54]
Ballade écossaise for harp, string orchestra and wind trio (1966) [11.02]
Devy Erlih (violin)
Orchestre National de France/Georges Tzipine
rec. 7 Jan 1964, Maison de la Radio, Paris (violin concerto)
Marielle Nordmann (harp)
Orchestre de Chambre des solistes de Marseille/Reynald Giovanetti
rec. 23 Feb 1985, Salle des Saltimbanques (La Timone), Marseille (Ballade)
Jean-Pierre Rampal (flute)
Orchestre de Chambre de l'ORTF/André Girard
rec. 10 Mar 1966, Maison de la Radio, Paris (Flute Concerto)
Alexandre Lagoya (guitar)
Orchestre Symphonique de Radio Zagreb/Jean Périsson
rec. 7 Apr 1969, Zagreb (Guitar Concerto)
LYRINX LYR 227 [80.00]


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 memorable.

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 onwards.

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 19.40.

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 the 1960s.

May there be more Tomasi discs. Perhaps Lyrinx and Claude Tomasi can collaborate to liberate more radio tapes from the world's archives.

Rob Barnett


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