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Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Variations on a theme of Frescobaldi (1937) [14:27]
Symphony No. 4 (1939) [27:22]
Four Polish Dances (1931) [11:07]
Que la Sauveur des Paines vienne Maintenant (1939) [5:00]
Symphony Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic/Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski
rec. November and December 2005, Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bialystok, Poland
DUX DUX-0542 [58:01]

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 (see review). 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 heard here.
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!
David Blomenberg


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