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July 2022

John Luther Adams Houses of the Wind
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Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Works for solo piano
Recueil de Mazurkas (1915-28) [17:56]
Sonata rustica (1925) [14:21]
Troisième Sonatine (1933) [8:22]
Trois Préludes en forme de Blues (1937) [8:02]
Quatre Nocturnes (1952) [7:22]
Album d’amis (1980)
Margaret Fingerhut (piano)
rec. October 2008, Potton Hall, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN10527 [73:39]

CD: Crotchet

Aleksander TANSMAN
Works for cello and piano
Deux pièces for cello and piano (1931) [4:02]
Cello Sonata No.2 (1930) [14:41]
Fantasie for cello with orchestra or piano (1936) [10:49]
Partita for cello and piano (1955) [17:38]
Quatre pièces faciles for cello and piano [4:35]
Cracow Duo: Jan Kalinowski (cello): Marek Szlezer (piano)
rec. January 2009, Academy of Music, Cracow
DUX 0697 [51:46]

CD: Crotchet

Aleksander TANSMAN
Cinq pièces (1930) [11:27]
Violin Concerto (1937) [26:50]
Suite Baroque for chamber orchestra (1958) [11:52]
Bariosz Cajler (violin)
Symphony Orchestra of Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Białystok/Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski
rec. April-June 2008, Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Concert Hall, Białystok
DUX 0639 [50:12]
Experience Classicsonline

Three doses of Tansman from companies that have done much to promote his music. We'll start with Chandos (see Rob Barnett's review of three Chandos discs of his orchestral works).

The piano music has been cannily selected to take in a large swathe of Tansman’s compositional life. The earliest pieces include juvenile works - some written when he was seventeen - whilst the Album d’amis was written in 1980, six years before Tansman’s death. The early work is Recueil de Mazurkas. The composer gave the premiere of the set, and also recorded it, in 1929. He takes in an amusing Oberek, and an artful, Chopin-infiltrated movement - which also wears the harmonic banner of then contemporary popular song . The second Oberek is vital and bass hewn. There’s a movement dedicated to the pianist Jan Smeterlin and this has some chromaticism as well as spicier harmonies - the pianist was a well known exponent of Szymanowski. We are back on folkloric territory for the sixth movement with its drone bass. Tansman also delves into so-called folk imaginé with aplomb, but has the confidence to end with a still and reflective Lento.

The Sonata rustica was written in 1925. It opens in heartening sonata-allegro form, spiced by plenty of contrastive material, including a little March section. The slow movement is an involving and quietly moving Cantilena, which certainly owes something to Ravel, before a festive dance ushers in the finale - the bell peals are exultant. The Third Sonata followed eight years later. The influences for this are alleged to be strongly Bali-esque but I hear a great deal of Parisian night life. There’s a finely voiced Hymnal central movement. Of the Trois Préludes en forme de Blues there’s plenty of chanson saturation, with a bluesy, drenched, slow movement replete with Gershwin, albeit a bit too cocktail-orientated for my own tastes. The brief Quatre Nocturnes was written for Stravinsky’s 70th birthday. Tansman draws on Ravel here, maybe late Fauré as well. Finally the late Album d’amis consists of nine brief movements. Dance patterns are the obvious influence; there’s even a Kujawiak. Some of the movements are suitably animated, whilst others - such as the last, dedicated to his publisher - are slow and reflective.

Dux’s first album surveys his works for cello and piano. The Two Pieces date from 1931 and are dedicated to Casals. The first is warmly lyrical whilst the second is brief and vivacious though it’s not terribly distinctive. Tansman certainly had a canny knack in his dedications. The Second Sonata was dedicated to that prince of French cellists, Maurice Maréchal, in 1930. It’s a compact three movement work with a strenuously effective sonata form first movement. The central panel has a rather forlorn element suffused as it is with refined lyricism. The most personalised music however comes in the finale - sprightly, animated, with a Puckish and rollicking quality.

The Fantasie was a dedication to Piatigorsky. It’s a bipartite affair. The latter part, being faster, is perhaps the more interesting. Tansman indulges his love of Gershwin here - as he often does in his music - but otherwise there’s rather a superficial quality to the writing. Cassadó was the recipient of the Partita, written in 1955. It’s by some way the most powerful work on the disc, and represents Tansman at his intellectually most formidable. It wears a Baroque carapace but also takes in assertive virtuosic writing and opportunities for melancholic infusions. There’s a busy scherzo section and a cadenza too, with fire reserved for the finale, which is culminatory in the right way, and includes a non-academic sounding Fugue. The Quatre pièces faciles are brief and baroque-tinged once more - and they act as brief charmers after the strong, probing control of the outstanding Partita.

The second Dux is dominated by works for the violin and orchestra. The Cinq pièces date from 1930. The first is a light-hearted neo-classical affair, very deftly orchestrated. Sweetness suffuses the second, and there’s a touch of the Flight of the Bumble Bee about the third. The fourth is a plangent dialogue between the violin and the winds; it’s a beautiful aria, one of Tansman’s finest.

Rather like the slightly older Martinů, Tansman was given to infiltrating piano textures into his orchestral and concertante works. The 1937 Violin Concerto is not especially neo-classical however. There are elements of impressionism - a filtered Debussy-Delius inheritance, from time to time. The mysterious opening to the Lento prefaces a cadenza but the heart of the lyricism resides in the Adagio cantabile which is gauzy but not quite memorable. The extensive cadenza here has Hungarian elements, and the writing is later, triumphantly, laced by percussion colour. The Suite Baroque for chamber orchestra followed over twenty years later, in 1958. It’s a bright and genial piece of writing - not at all like Tippett in his baroque-absorbent work. Tansman is altogether more spruce and even-handed, and far less memorable.

All the performances prove worthy ambassadors for Tansman’s music. So too the recordings, which are strongly sympathetic. Some sifting is necessary here. The Violin Concerto is a rare bird, but not classic Tansman. The Partita for cello is probing and powerful. The piano disc has the widest variety and in many ways the best music.

Jonathan Woolf  



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