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Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Chamber Music with Clarinet

Musique for clarinet and string quartet (1982) [10:07]
Musique à Six for clarinet, string quartet, and piano (1977) [19:57]
Trois Pieces for clarinet, harp, and string quartet (1970) [8:27]
Triptyque for string quartet (1930) [16:06]
Jean-Marc Fessard (clarinet; bass clarinet)
Eliane Reyes (piano)
Francis Pierre (harp)
Quatuor Elysée
rec. Studio de Meudon, Paris, France, 20-23 April 2006
NAXOS 8.570235 [54:44]

 


Tansman is beginning to receive his due from record companies and in this respect the symphonic cycle looms large. But Tansman wrote highly distinctively for chamber forces as well and the fruits of his work for chamber music with clarinet are presented here.

Actually that’s not quite true. The disc’s title implies an all-clarinet recital but perhaps the most well known of the works here, Triptyque, a masterpiece, is written for string quartet.

Nevertheless the performances of all the works here are most persuasive and make a fine case for Tansman’s mastery of the chamber medium.  Musique for clarinet and string quartet is the most recent and dates from 1982, four years before Tansman’s death. It’s rich in polyphony and has a kind of crepuscular lyricism that fuses Franco-Polish influences to rewarding effect.  The central movement has a lightly worn neo-classicism and feints toward fugato, or pizzicato string lacing add colour and richness to the writing. The clarinet lines are especially fertile, not least in the fluid and quiet ending of the finale.

Musique à Six was written for clarinet, string quartet and piano and dates from 1977. This is a more directly wistful piece and the violins’ initially torpid expressivity promises rich rewards to come, almost all realised. There are some fizzing things in the Intermezzo – marked, of all things, Perpetuum pianissimo. The liquid vitality of the writing, the trademark fugal feints, and the tenor of the music perhaps suggest Prokofiev and maybe even Martinů in its athletic vibrancy. The Notturno is warmly moving, the lyric lines stretched wide and frequently supported by the piano’s richly romantic and cushioned chording. And the folkloric hues of the Cappriccio alla polacca are immensely approachable. The finale’s wistful depth sounds strongly reminiscent of the opening movement’s emotive remove and it lends the work a satisfyingly cyclical shape.

Seven years earlier, in 1970, Tansman wrote Trois Pièces for clarinet, harp, and string quartet. Readers will note that Naxos programme all these works in reverse chronological order. Once again Tansman does nothing to challenge orthodoxies or to promote intellectualism, academicism or any other dreaded –ism. He simply writes superbly crafted, lyrically attractive, often technically demanding but listener-sympathetic music. His Perpetuum mobile writing is to the fore once again; the shifting lines and resonant, brilliant contoured patterns ever exciting. This is a piece rich in contrast and vitality and colour. There’s also a rather Martinů-like ragtime element in the Lento cantabile finale.

The Triptyque is by forty years the earliest work and was written in 1930. It’s sometimes to be heard in the arrangement for string orchestra though I always prefer the quartet version. It’s a brilliant neo-classical work, exuberant, energetic, a little analogous once again with Martinů. The sweet counter melodic statements of the central Andante are full of warmth but this is nevertheless a well argued and structured work. The central lyric section of the finale, for example, is well balanced and richly contrastive. Rhythmically Tansman is on top form. It’s not a work that one could suggest bore any similarity with say, Alan Bush’s Dialectic, another quartet masterpiece from around the same time. Tansman is sunnier, less ambiguous, and less intense. But he handles the form with confidence and the results are life affirming.

An excellent disc then – well played and well engineered and with good notes. A feather in the cap for Tansman admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by David Blomenberg

 

 

 


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