It may have been his natural inclination or a mixture of fate and chance that led Jacques Loussier to become the most brilliant exponent of ‘crossover’ that has ever been. This took the shape of his fantastically successful discs of versions of Bach for his jazz trio. These were later joined by others of the music of Vivaldi, Satie, Ravel, Debussy, Handel, Chopin, Mozart and Schumann. However, as is often the case with a jazz musician Loussier began studying as a classical pianist. His tutors included French pianist Yves Nat with whom he studied from the age of 13 at the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique in Paris. It was after his studies, for both relaxation and, presumably, a few francs, that he began to play his jazz improvisations of Bach in bars and cafés which direction he eventually pursued full time. That his love of classical music had its place in his heart is evidenced by these two violin concertos that are recorded here for the first time.
Though I find them both exciting and full of wonderful tunes I’m unsure exactly where they sit; they are not ‘classical’ in the sense I understand yet they are not ‘crossover’ in the sense I understand that to mean either. There is a feeling of both Gershwin and Bernstein about the works and where do you place Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
or Bernstein’s West Side Story
– answers on a postcard please. Loussier seems unable completely to leave his jazz world and so a theme that is repeated during much of the first concerto’s first movement and which reappears at various other times is made up of seven of the eight notes of It ain’t necessarily so
by Gershwin. The concerto has four movements with the following titles Prague
, L’homme nu
, Buenos Aires Tango
. The orchestra burst into action immediately the first movement begins followed shortly by the violin which hardly gets any kind of a break in playing. No matter how many times I listen to it I can’t get a handle on any connection with Prague unless there is a town of the same name in Argentina. The music is extremely energetic and attractive as is the slow and satisfyingly dreamy second movement. The third movement is tango pure and simple and is as breathtakingly exciting as tango can be in its undiluted state. The last movement reminded me of the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Loussier’s violin writing sounding more and more like Stéphane Grappelli as it progressed.
His second concerto was a commission from the Menuhin Festival and again erupts onto the scene with another burst of tango-like rhythms. This time there's a tabla on the stage but it seems tagged on more as a musical gimmick than as a weighty co-soloist with its own specific role. It does not reappear until the last movement that sounds as if the music has decamped to Romania. In between is a cadenza that is more ‘classical’ in feel than anything else and one might say ‘so what’ to which I would reply ‘agreed’. All the music in each concerto seems to be more a question of individual pieces and seems to lack a sense of cohesion. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the music and if it cannot be pigeonholed that doesn’t in any way detract from its fizzing exuberance and sheer white hot energy.
It is often difficult to understand the couplings that appear on disc. That couldn’t be more the case than it is here. The only connection is the violinist, though Richard Whitehouse in his booklet notes also points to the fact that the two pianists Loussier and Paderewski took to composition latterly, a somewhat strained connection I think. Judging by the fact that the recordings were made seven years apart I can only assume that the sonata for violin and piano by Paderewski, one time Prime Minister of Poland, was simply awaiting its opportunity to be issued. Loussier’s concertos fitted the bill given that they only take up 38 minutes; strange nevertheless. That said I’m pleased enough to have it because it is a very lovely work, composed when Paderewski was 22 in 1882. The opening Allegro con fantasia
introduces a persuasive theme that is subjected to a full exploration along with another. The prominent Polish folk element across the entire movement is a joy. Each of the three movements embodies strongly articulated themes. Overall the writing is sumptuous and expansive leaving the listener wanting more. The second movement, an intermezzo is quietly reflective and rather inward-looking giving it an enjoyably albeit sad veneer. The finale shakes off the introspection and is outward looking with two more firmly declared themes that form the body of the movement. The violin’s assertive role is complemented by the crystalline voice of the piano. At no time does it behave as a mere accompanist.
Adam Kostecki’s sweet tone is matched by his dynamic playing. He grabs the opportunities afforded by each work to showcase his obvious talents. Encouragement has been forthcoming from musicians such as Isaac Stern, Henryk Szeryng, Nathan Milstein and Yehudi Menuhin. The reasons for their endorsement are evident throughout this disc and especially in the cadenza of Loussier’s second concerto and in the sonata. Gunther Hauer is a more than reliable partner in the sonata, delivering solid support and some very fine playing. The young members of the small but perfectly formed Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra clearly enjoy the two Loussier works and make a big sound that belies their size.
So to sum up: we have two works that for me defy categorisation and a strange musical bedfellow. Despite all that the disc is interesting to say the least and full of exciting as well as beautiful music so what’s not to like. As I’ve often said before, the keen prices of Naxos discs make it easy to take a punt without any real wallet denting. As always they are in the forefront of record companies prepared to release repertoire that might struggle to be heard otherwise. That’s a major contribution to music and to listeners alike.
Previous review: Rob Barnett