Le Piano Français
Jean RIVIER (1896-1987)
Concerto Brève, for piano and string orchestra (1953) [10:08]
Robert CASADESUS (1899-1972)
Capriccio for piano and string orchestra, op.49 (1952) [19:04]
Jean WIENER (1896-1982)
Concerto no.1 for piano and string orchestra, 'Franco-Américain' (1923) [14:43]
Jacques CASTEREDE (b.1928)
Concerto for piano and string orchestra (1954) [25:04]
Timon Altwegg (piano)
Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse/Gilles Colliard
rec. Studio Elixir, Toulouse, France, 29-31 May 2012.
GUILD GMCD 7391 [68:59]
In the booklet notes, Robert Matthew-Walker opens with a huge understatement: "In the history of European concert music, one occasionally encounters works of a similar nature which are associated with composers from a particular country or region." On the contrary, thanks to recordings like this, the 21st-century music-lover does not even have to search out such similarities: every week brings several new releases drawing attention to neglected composers linked up by the performers and producers on the basis of shared nationality, era, work type or any number of obscure notions.
The four composers on this disc deserve better than to languish in obscurity. Robert Casadesus is one of the great French pianists, but how many who know his interpretations of Ravel or Mozart even knew he was a composer, let alone the creator of seven symphonies, a variety of concertos - including one for three pianos, which he subsequently recorded with his wife and son (still available on the internet, though not widely - see review) - four string quartets, four piano sonatas and much else besides? His Capriccio op.49, a piano concerto to all intents and purposes, is a memorable work of considerable substance - not to mention a huge quantity of notes. Two of the other works on this enterprising disc were composed at almost the same time. Jacques Castérède wrote his Concerto right at the beginning of a career which is still current, a remarkable sixty years later. The long, languorous third movement in particular is very French and very agréable. Jean Rivier's Concerto Brève is probably the most 'modern'-sounding of the four, although its neo-classical idiom and concision ensure it remains attractive to more tradition-oriented audiences.
Rather embarrassingly, Jean Wiener's name is repeatedly misspelt (as 'Weiner') by Matthew-Walker, even with reference to the "Weiner-Doucet" jazz duo, a fact which may leave the reader wondering how reliable the rest of his information is. Ironically, the translator spotted the mistake for the German notes and corrected it - although the German half is not entirely error-free. At any rate, Wiener's love of jazz and friendship with Gershwin give some indication of what to expect in his 'Franco-American' concerto, which even ends with an extended and quite infectious 'music hall' movement, or what the notes curiously refer to as "a simple streetwise theme".
Soloist Timon Altwegg, though not in the slightest French, is formidable in this would-be-should-be repertoire. His biography goes into too much detail - who cares if his concerts have been broadcast "live in Ecuador" or that he is "musical advisor" for musicaneo.com, which many will be surprised to learn is "today [...] regarded as one of the most important sites worldwide for classical music". The important thing is he gives a convincing account of these, as advertised, virtuosic works, stoutly sub-served by the Toulouse Chamber Orchestra under Gilles Colliard. Colliard is also a fine violinist and he and Altwegg have already teamed up once before for Guild, to record the violin sonatas of Hans Huber (GMCD 7371).
Sound quality here is good, without being outstanding in terms of depth and clarity. Matthew-Walker's informative notes are in English and German only - rather surprisingly for a Swiss label. Now that these composers have had their profiles raised a little by this release, the next logical step for Guild - or any other label, for that matter - is to release a monograph or two for each of them.
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Altwegg is formidable in this would-be-should-be repertoire.

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