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Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Clarinet Concerto (1957) [17:50]
Concertino for oboe, clarinet and strings (1952) [20:01]
Six Movements for strings (1962/1963) [24:28]
Jean-Marc Fessard (clarinet)
Laurent Decker (oboe)
Silesian Chamber Orchestra/Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk
rec. Karol Stryja Hall, Katowice, Poland, 23-24 June 2009; 26-28 August 2009 [6 Movements]. DDD
NAXOS 8.572402 [62:19]

Experience Classicsonline

This is now the sixth CD published by Naxos given over entirely to the music of Polish-born composer Aleksander Tansman, and the second of his clarinet works - a disc of chamber works for the instrument was well received here. In a sense, in fact, this is a further volume of the same - the Silesian Chamber Orchestra consists of only twelve strings, and all three works featured here were written for chamber orchestra.
The Clarinet Concerto is dedicated to the celebrated French clarinettist Louis Cahuzac (1880-1960), who gave its premiere in 1959. The first of three movements, marked Introduction and Allegro, opens very laggardly but springs to life with the entrance of the clarinet. The highlight of the work is the slow second movement, a short, very lyrical Arioso, which features a fleeting but beautiful duet with the oboe. Throughout the movement the orchestra is very subdued, and in fact is silent for the opening of the finale, which begins unusually with a cadenza for the clarinet, before launching into a jaunty, almost klezmer-like Danza Popolare, played Vivace with some virtuosic demands made of the soloist. Alas, the work ends all too soon.
The clarinet-oboe duo idea of the Concerto's final movement is revisited with élan in the six-movement neo-Classical-cum-neo-Baroque Concertino, which was written in 1952, the year Tansman's wife was diagnosed with the cancer that eventually killed her. On the whole, the music of the Concertino betrays little of the emotional turmoil Tansman must have been feeling, beginning with the opening Poulenc-like Overture, which is bursting with sunshine. The second movement, marked Andante sostenuto, is more chordally mysterious than downcast, and it soon yields to a Molto vivace Scherzo which reprises the jollity of the Overture. Tansman's true frame of mind is perhaps revealed at last in the fourth movement, which is a slow Elegy written - markedly? - for strings alone. The Elegy is followed by a Canon, which starts off with solo strings extending the lugubrious mood, before the clarinet and oboe finally reappear, albeit both wistful - only for them to stop suddenly and the Elegy return to moving effect for the final two minutes for strings only. Yet for the brief finale, marked Allegro deciso, optimistic normality is resumed and the music picks up first the mood, and then the theme of the Overture.
One surprising fact about both the Concerto and the Concertino is that this is the first time they have been recorded - a shame on clarinettists and music labels everywhere, but credit to Naxos and the performers on this CD for recognising this fine music and recording it for posterity.
The Six Movements for Strings was premiered in 1963. The title is a little misleading - as the liner notes explain, these are not six independent pieces bound together to make an opus, but "six movements that together form a cycle whose strong sense of unity derives from a series of deftly conceived internal relationships." The work begins enigmatically, with an Introduction marked Andante misterioso, and segues into an Allegro giocoso that is muscly, brisk and often tonally nebulous, this latter a recurring theme of the work as a whole. The short Dirge is less pessimistic and more colourful than its title suggests. The Perpetuum mobile third movement, marked Vivo con fuoco, is a firecracker of a piece, full of virtuosic techniques, driving rhythms and more polytonality. The riddles of the Introduction return for the spooky Intermezzo, which is followed by a pressing Scherzino in which tonality is yet again obfuscated. The last movement of this superb work - modernist in many ways, yet still attractive to the general ear - is an exciting chromatic Fugue, which brings the piece to a satisfying, and once again sudden, end.
In the Six Movements the Silesian Chamber Orchestra under Mirosław Błaszczyk get a well-deserved turn in the limelight. The Orchestra was founded by Polish conductor Karol Stryja in 1981, with members drawn from the Silesian Philharmonic, and it is fitting that they gave this sterling performance, their first for Naxos, in the Karol Stryja Hall in Katowice, where Stryja died in 1998. Laurent Decker and especially Jean-Marc Fessard - who was also the clarinettist on Naxos 8.570235 (review link above) - likewise deserve praise for their own fine performances.
The quality of sound is excellent, the booklet nicely detailed, and the picture on the cover is ... the picture on the cover. A quality disc for a quality composer.  


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