Itís extremely gratifying
to see that we now have not only one but two labels based
in Poland issuing high-quality recordings of Polish composers.
Iíve mentioned in other reviews that there is a great deal
of wonderful music coming from Poland and this release from
DUX is no exception.
I became acquainted with Alexander
Tansmanís music from reviewing some discs a while ago (see review),
as well as reading another review posted here on Musicweb
The pieces here on this DUX release came as somewhat of a
surprise. Of the works that Iíd heard, one could clearly
discern Tansmanís affinity for light music and the popular
music of the time ó the foxtrot, the busy urban bustle of
the 1920s. The larger-scale works presented here show a very
different side to the manís work.
Composed in 1937, the Variations
on a Theme of Frescobaldi could be seen as Tansmanís Tallis
Fantasia; both pieces share an air of solemn reverence,
with gorgeous writing for the strings. The sound here is
worlds away from the catchy syncopated Sonatine ŗ Louis
Fleury for flute and piano. Commissioned by the St.
Louis Symphony and dedicated to its conductor Vladimir
Golschmann, the work was originally scored for full orchestra
and later rescored for string orchestra, which is the version
The latest composition on
this disc, the Fourth Symphony of 1939, hadnít been published
until 1998, and displays a much more modern aspect. The disc
doesnít indicate that this is the world premiere recording,
but Iíve not found any other commercially-available ones.
The symphony begins rather darkly, with muted strings and
a single clarinet intoning a narrative line, handing it off
to the oboe and then a small group of woodwinds as the strings
shift slowly and uneasily underneath. After a pause, the
entire orchestra gets involved with repeating the first theme,
subsiding to allow the flute a moment. For the rest of the
movement the tension builds, the dissonance growing before
an unearthly moment done entirely in harmonics ó a particularly
exciting section. Interestingly, the descending motif in
the strings about halfway through is inverted; the rest of
the movement dominated by an ascending motif. Throughout,
the mood is uneasy, with shifting chromatics.
There is somewhat more comfort
to be taken in the following Adagio, with some tension
remaining from the first movement, but the overall feel here
is solace, if of the temporary sort. There are moments here
that evoke Shostakovich. An impressive movement ó it is a
wonder that this symphony collected dust for almost seventy
years before finding a publisher and an audience.
The concluding Allegro
gracioso begins with the rabble of the woodwinds, quarrelling
over the thematic material, which is then treated in a
grotesque counterpoint in true Hindemith fashion. The orchestra
gets hooked into an ostinato and chugs like a train to
a great sarcastic and rather darkly impressive end.
To end this disc we have Four
Polish Dances, composed in 1931, again showing a completely
different mien. These, though, are in more familiar territory
regarding his love of dance music. They are not museum
pieces but instead are given the modern treatment, with
bustling traffic and gregarious busy-ness. As a curtain-closer,
we have one piece from his Two Chorales by J. S. Bach,
based on Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599. The
theme is given to the oboe. The piece stays rather reserved
until the restatement of the theme, when the scoring loses
its sparseness and builds to a more Romantic scale.
Overall, a greatly enjoyable
disc, well-recorded and performed. This shows the great spectrum
of achievement encompassed by Tansman. More please!