Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Happy Time, on s’amuse au piano [44:13]*
Book I (Primary) [11:36]; Book II (Elementary) [16:29]; Book III (Intermediate) [16:08]
Ten Diversions for the Young Pianist [14:04]*
Elzbieta Tyszecka (piano)
rec. Kameralna Hall named after Henryk Czyza, Lódz Philarmonia, Lódz, Poland, March and July 2011. *World première recordings.
Aleksander TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Pour les enfants pour piano de difficulté progressive [54:11]*
1er Recueil, très facile [11:16]; 2e Recueil, facile [12:13]; 3e Recueil, assez facile [12:47]; 4e Recueil, moyenne difficulté [17:55]
Piano miniatures (1945)[6:56]*
Elzbieta Tyszecka (piano)
rec. Kameralna Hall named after Henryk Czyza, Lódz Philarmonia, Lódz, Poland, July and October 2011. *World première recordings.
I always get a frisson of excitement at the prospect of hearing world première recordings. Accordingly, I looked forward with relish to reviewing these discs of music by Tansman for children to play.
Lódz-born composer Aleksander Tansman spent most of his life in France where he immigrated in 1919 after the young composer discovered that his works did not appeal to the critics of the day. I sometimes wonder why it is that certain countries appear to undervalue their own composers while others embrace them. In the case of these piano works it seems that pianists in Poland also ignored them until relatively recently which is a great shame as they are so appealing. Tansman wrote them as he explained “... to bridge the abysmal gap, for the very young pianist, between the school’s methodical exercises and the real repertoire of the great masters” and to “construct a bridge between scales and exercises on the one hand and the whole repertory from Bach and Handel until the present times on the other”. While it is true that they are more interesting the more difficult they become it is equally true that all are charming and intelligently written little gems in their own right. They work well, as proved here, away from the young pianists’ practise rooms and in the concert hall and recording studio. Indeed they have also been transcribed for the likes of harp and harpsichord as well as being played in their original form. Tansman clearly took his aim to provide young pianists with interesting and valuable pieces to play extremely seriously. He even made sure that the art of the accompanist and budding chamber musician was covered by writing simple works for various combinations including violin and piano, cello and piano and violin, cello and piano as well as for piano four hands and for two violins.
These pieces were written in 1960 and are delightful miniatures covering a whole range of styles and moods as well as being influenced by various “exotic” locations such as in Arabia, Versailles, Swedish Dance, Oriental Dance, Iberian Mood and even a slice of Americana in the shape of In Memory of George Gershwin. Ten Diversions for the Young Pianist, written in Beverly Hills, USA in 1946 presents the young pianist with differing moods to capture, from calmness to sadness and from concentrating at prayer to mischievous behaviour and much else besides. Writing successful piano miniatures always reminds me of writing successful short stories in that to make them work and to represent what the composer was aiming at requires even greater skill than it does when more time is available. I was reminded of this particularly in track 40 Dreams where the illusion of dreaming is precisely described in one minute and thirteen seconds which is quite amazing. It is true that a number of composers wrote music for children to play and I recently reviewed a brilliant disc of such music by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (CPO 777 517-2). In Weinberg’s case they were written in 1944 for his 12 year old daughter to play whilst the photos in the Tansman discs booklets are presumably of his daughters. They look to be quite a bit younger than that which may help explain the comparative simplicity of these pieces. The photos appear in the booklets of both discs but are more likely to pertain to the second disc since these works were written in 1933 as a commission from a publishing house. Maybe he used his daughters as ‘practise material’ to see whether they could manage to play them or maybe they are there just to represent childhood, though surely they must have played having such a father. This second disc is of two works, the first a group of piano pieces for children described in French as being “of progressive difficulty” and which comprises four collections subtitled “very easy, easy, fairly easy, average difficulty”.
Tansman had an incredible facility for writing simple though interesting pieces that children would find it possible to play but that do not reveal their best until and unless the pianist is able to master the piece completely before moving on to the next level. These are to be practised to make perfect because, though I am no pianist, I can well imagine that trying to play Russian Dance (track 6) which only lasts a mere 44 seconds in a convincing way must require a skill somewhat greater than that intimated in the description “very easy”. When moving on to “easy” the young pianist is presented with Mazurka in which they have a tiny 28 seconds in which to demonstrate this vigorous Polish dance. La Toupie is 29 seconds of fiendishly fast playing. I can imagine the youngster’s relief when the next few items are slow and relaxed by comparison. As I said at the beginning the marvellous thing about these pieces are that they stand on their own as being fascinating little marvels in their own right; they may be for children but they are emphatically not childish.
The booklet notes, written by the pianist here Elzbieta Tyszecka, suggest that the first set was written for children of pre-school age to which one can only think that anyone who could truly get on top of these pieces at such an early age should go on with their studies and consider taking up a career as a pianist. I don’t wish to suggest that they or any of the others are too taxing. However they allow enough scope to stretch the young person to achieve a high level of ability and if they end up being able to play them like this pianist does they will have done so. The collection certainly expands the child’s view of the world with excursions to far flung places from Russia in the Russian Dance (track 6), to America in Le petit nègre (track 20). Then there’s Jeux Balinais (track 44) with it representation of the Javanese gamelan. The five Piano Miniatures, which were written in 1945, while perhaps for the older piano student still retain that element of learning the craft that means that while they may be achievable they still require that extra effort to make them perfect.
These discs are very enjoyable to listen to and are varied enough never to be boring. Each piece has something to say in an incredibly short time and says it brilliantly. Elzbieta Tyszecka is a highly talented pianist with a number of discs recorded by Acte Préalable of widely varying repertoire from Verdi to Weinberg. She is as busy as an accompanist as she is as a soloist and these discs show her as extremely sympathetic to the material. This helps to make them successful, enjoyable and worth owning.
Steve Arloff
Fascinating little marvels in their own right.