Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Symphonies vol. 2 - On the Symphonic Edge
Symphony No. 7 (1944) [20:56]
Musique pour Orchestre - Symphony No. 8 (1948) [21:45]
Symphony No. 9 (1957-58) [21:35]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Oleg Caetani
rec. Roger Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, 28 August-1 September 2006
CHANDOS CHSA 5054 [64:37]

Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Symphonies vol. 3 - On the Symphonic Edge
Symphony No. 2 (1926) [26:47]
Quatre Mouvements pour orchestre (1967-68) [17:58]
Symphonie Concertante (Symphony No. 3) (1931) [25:21]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Oleg Caetani
rec. Roger Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, 27-28 November 2007 (2; Mouvements); 18-20, 25 March 2008 (2, 3).
CHANDOS CHSA 5065 [70:30]

Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Symphonies vol. 4 – Chamber Symphonies
Symphonie de chambre (1960) [14:19]
Sinfonietta No. 1 (1924) [15:01]
Sinfonietta No. 2 (1978) [13:45]
Sinfonia piccola (1951-52) [17:31]
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Oleg Caetani
rec. Auditorio Stelo Miolo, Lugano, Switzerland. 20 January (No. 2), 6-8 May 2009.
CHANDOS CHAN 10574 [61:06]

The joint Caetani-Chandos-Tansman symphonic cycle has pretty much sidled into the catalogue and has received little acclaim. This imaginative music merits better treatment.
Tansman was born in Lodz in Poland but moved to Paris when he was twenty. His works were taken up by Vladimir Golschmann and Serge Koussevitsky. The latter commissioned a brace of piano concertos from him (1925, 1927) which the composer followed up with a concert tour of the USA in 1927-8. Like Koechlin and Aubert the international celebrity of Charlie Chaplin (Charlot) drew a work from Tansman. In fact the second piano concerto is dedicated to Chaplin. The invasion of France propelled Tansman to the USA where, like many another émigré, he earned a living in the bear-pit of the Hollywood film world.
There’s a superb biographical entry on Musica et Memoria.
Tansman is no stranger to CD but until this resplendent series his presence in the catalogue has been precarious. There has been quite a bit of activity from Etcetera on the chamber music front, two CDs from Marco Polo including the Fifth Symphony, the Violin Concerto on Olympia and the Fourth Symphony on both Koch Schwann and Dux.
Chandos do not do things by halves. We start with Volume 2 simply because I have not heard the first CD in this series which includes Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 ‘In memoriam'. These are played by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with the Melbourne Chorale conducted by Oleg Caetani. It’s on Chandos CHSA5041 (SACD) entitled The War Years.
Turning to Volume 3 first: The 1926 Second Symphony is in four movements for full orchestra. This is a work of sprung athletic ideas. A little heartless, à la Markevitch, in the outer movements, it is in fact touching in a Gallic sense in the Lento. The Scherzo is a skittery, fey, shining and twinkling web. The Symphony is dedicated to Koussevitsky who premiered it in Paris on 28 May 1927. I should add that the First Symphony is lost.
In the Quatre Mouvements of 1967-68 there are reminiscences of Markevitch and perhaps a touch of Eugene Goossens in his final 1950s phase. The first movement is marked by a fluttering ostinato followed in the second by a feathery avian concatenation. The third movement is memorable for its spare textures and bells rung and hammered. There is humanity aplenty in the finale with a ruthless stuttered ostinato, full of intrigue and engagement. At the end there is a falling away into a diaphanous Ravelian decay of bells and a silvery gleam.
The Third Symphony Symphonie Concertante (1931) is for violin, viola, cello, piano and orchestra. It was premiered in Brussels on 6 March 1932. The movements reflect a style familiar from Grainger and Ravel, from Jazz Age Stravinsky, from the squeaky-beguiling-sinister originality of Ravel’s Mother Goose and finally from the flashing and flittering neo-classical syncopation of Dumbarton Oaks.
Turning to volume 2: The Seventh Symphony Lyrique was written in Los Angeles and is dedicated to Vera and Igor Stravinsky. It was premiered in St Louis by Golschmann. It is a work of some urgency of expression with at first a touch of 1940s Martinu of an athletic clean-limbed nature. There’s a cool and pavane-like magical atmosphere in the second movement and in the third a jerky streaming life complete with the evocation of car-horns. Things are aptly rounded by a contemplative finale.
The Eight Symphony is entitled Musique pour Orchestre. It was completed in the year he published his monograph on Stravinsky: 1948. Premiered by Kubelik with the Italian Radio Symphony Orchestra, its lines are silvery and cleanly defined. There’s a slowly mellifluous and contemplative Elegie dedicated to Franz André, the fine Belgian conductor whose name will be known to those who sought out Belgian music LPs. The third movement is a busy, minimalistically-scored little scherzo. Its skittery career suggests Shostakovich. The many streaming fugal lines manage to be more romantic than academic. The finale begins subdued but then plays extravagantly with a fugal weave of great arching and leaping lines. It ends with a typical Stravinskian fast-trudge and a booted Petrushka stomp.
A decade later came his Ninth Symphony, a work written for himself and not as a commission. It kicked a trend evident in his last decades when he became known for works without the word ‘symphony’ in the title. The first is all leaping activity. The second is a heartfelt threnody. The third again draws on his mastery of evoking shimmering, tinkling, shining and gleaming textures dashed against carefree and fluttering woodwind writing. The finale opens with a pensive introduction which paves the way for a double fugue of ambitious proportions and boisterous temperament. This again and sounds like Markevitch at times. It is excitingly carefree at the end in a burst of pages that throwing off any sign of the academic’s skeletal hand.
All three of these works are between 21 and 22 minutes long. The style is not loquacious or high-flown but economical and to the point. However do not expect major florid emotional statements.
Volume 4 is the last in the series and has only recently (2009) been issued.
The sound quality is deeply impressive with the jazzy surging ferment of the Sinfonie de chambre caught in every detail, even in the complexity of the initial Toccata and in the final movement. For a work dating from 1960 it’s surprisingly reminiscent of Constant Lambert’s ballets. Less Stravinskian than I had expected, Caetani and his lustrous and expert Swiss orchestra make these pages zing and exult as they should. They do this without scouting over the passionate depth of the central Elegie - its doughty string paeans are fully put across. The singing scalpel and swinging hammer of the strings reminded me a little of Martinu. Other moments suggest a cross with Kurt Weill. Despite its diminutive proportions the work and its emotional cortex feel epic and deeply serious.
The Sinfonietta No.1 is scored for orchestra with single woodwinds, brass, and piano and is dedicated to the composer Louis Gruenberg (1884-1964). There is a touch of jazzy Lambert here amid the pellucid orchestration but also of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and of Ravel’s Mother Goose. The latter can be heard in the creepiness of the Notturno and the seraphic peace of the Mazurka. It’s a work bristling with delightful ideas and aural coups de théâtre.
Sinfonietta No.2 comes from the other end of his life. It was commissioned by Polish Radio and dates from 1978. It was premiered as part of Tansman’s 80th birthday celebrations in Poland. In four movements like its predecessor, it infers a more philosophical man behind the notes with rhetoric balanced by reflection. The piano remains a strong accentuating part of the aural picture. The music still glints and flutters and in no sense suggests a tired imagination as the second movement makes clear with its occasional Firebird flutters. A fleeting Adagio makes a chilly spell before making way for a jazzily athletic, even belligerent, Finale romantico with singing strings and beautifully created gleaming textures.
The Sinfonia Piccola was commissioned by the French Ministry of Education and dedicated to a famous surgeon, Dr Jean-Louis Lortat-Jacob. Its four movements encompass Ravelian reflective melancholy, spliced with Stravinskian neo-classicism, Lambertian effervescence, Gershwin street-scenes and exultation. Its weakness is its rather perfunctory ending. By a short margin it is, despite its title, the longest of the pieces on volume 4.
The satisfactorily detailed liner-note is by Troja Trochimczyk.
If you remain to be convinced and do not want to splash out on all four discs in one go then go for volume 4. If that does not enthuse you then Tansman may not be the composer for you. I was ready not to be impressed but came away wanting to hear his other works including the reputedly grand oratorio Isaie le Prophète preferably coupled, as suggested by Musica et Memoria, with the Psaumes for tenor, chorus and orchestra. It would also be good to hear his opera Sabbatai Zevi (1957-58)
Tansman’s music: superficially neo-classical on the surface but superbly rich in rising emotional sap. More Lambert and ripe Martinu than desiccated Stravisnky or Hindemith.
Rob Barnett