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Alexandre TANSMAN (1897 Ė 1986)
Symphonie de chambre (1960) [14:19]
Sinfonietta No.1 (1924) [15:01]
Sinfonietta No.2 (1978) [13:45]
Sinfonia piccola (1951/2) [17:31]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Oleg Caetani
rec. Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland, 20 January 2009 (Sinfonietta No.2) and 6-8 May 2009 (other works)
CHANDOS CHAN 10574 [61:06]
Experience Classicsonline

Tansman was a prolific and versatile composer whose music dropped off the musical scene when its elegant Neo-classicism became unfashionable. This did not deter the composer who continued to compose while remaining true to himself. The Chandos Tansman series, of which this is the fourth volume, might certainly help restore Tansmanís music to a wider audience. Next to his symphonies Tansman composed four chamber symphonies that span more than fifty years of his composing life. The earliest of them is the Sinfonietta No.1 completed in 1924 when the composer was in Paris. At that time he came under the influence of Stravinsky and the Groupe des Six with whom he felt deep sympathy. This is reflected in music which often reminds one of these composers. Itís none the worse for that as Tansmanís craftsmanship is such that he succeeds in making something of his own out of the various influences that he may have experienced at that time. The Sinfonietta No.1 has more of the divertimento about it than the symphony albeit a short symphony.

The Second World War compelled Tansman and his family to leave France and settle in the States where they stayed till the end of the war. Both the Sinfonia piccola and the Symphonie de chambre, composed well after his return to France, are partly imbued with the composerís war experience. This also accounts for the rather more serious character of these works. The Sinfonia piccola is in four concise movements and the music often displays considerable energy reminiscent of Honegger. Similarly the Symphonie de chambre, scored for oboe, horn, strings, piano and percussion, opens with a propulsive Toccata. This strongly reminded me of Martinuís powerful masterpiece Concerto for double string orchestra, piano and timpani of 1939 as well as of Honeggerís Second Symphony. The central movement is a beautiful and deeply felt Elegy and the whole is capped by an energetic Fugue. To my mind the Symphonie de chambre is the most impressive work here.

Tansmanís name and music were banned by the Polish communist authorities for more than thirty years. The composer had to wait until 1978 when several celebrations were organised in Poland on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. The Sinfonietta No.2 was composed for that occasion and was first performed in 1978. Again the work is in four movements while the music Ė though clearly Tansmanís own throughout Ė had a few surprises such as the twelve-tone row with which the first movement opens. The second movement, too, has more than a touch of irony since Tansman quotes a popular song about a man thought to be dead though still well and truly alive. Itís a direct allusion to the long neglect into which his music fell in Poland after World War II. After a short Adagio quasi intermezzo the work ends with yet another energetic and rhythmically alert Finale capped by an appeased coda restating some of the material from the Adagio.

I have not heard the other instalments of this Tansman series but, as far as I can judge, Caetani firmly believes in this music and conducts vital readings of these colourful scores. The recording is quite bright Ė maybe too bright for some tastes Ė but perfectly serving these often ebullient scores. Those who have already invested in the earlier releases will certainly know what to expect and therefore do not need any further recommendation. Others will certainly find much to enjoy here.

Hubert Culot



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