Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Music for violin and piano
Romance (1918)* [4:38]
Sonate No.2 (1917-19) [18:17]
Sonate quasi una fantasia (1924)* [17:17]
Sonatine No.1 (1925)* [11:22]
Sonatine No.2 (1941)* [11:36]
Fantasie (1963) [15:59]
Klaidi Sahatçi (violin); Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland, 2013
*world premičre recording
NAXOS 8.573127 [79:08]

It was only in July 2012 that I first came to know Polish composer Alexandre Tansman when I reviewed three discs of his piano music written for children (review review). They contained no fewer than 147 pieces all of which were both delightful and simple. Last year I reviewed a disc of Tansman’s piano music not written specifically for children (Naxos 8.573021) and discovered how amazingly talented he was and how multi faceted was his music. Now I have the opportunity to discover chamber music he wrote for violin and piano. On the strength of it I cannot wait for further releases since there is clearly a lot more waiting to be discovered.

Tansman made such a name for himself in his adopted Paris in the early years of the twentieth century that his music seemed to be on the programmes of every concert hall. It seems hard to see how so much of his output is yet to be discovered by our present generation. On this disc we have four world premičre recordings of music written as early as 1918 and as late as 1941.

The Romance which he wrote aged 21 is a delightfully sweet little concoction with which he won one of the first three prizes in the Polish National Composition Competition in 1919. He also won the two other prizes having entered all three works under pseudonyms – a kind of musical blind-tasting. Following this he was encouraged to move to Paris where his success was confirmed and extended. His four movement Sonate No.2, written between 1917-19, is as the booklet notes observe reminiscent of early Szymanowski. This is unsurprising since much of Szymanowski’s music has Polish folkloric undertones and Tansman always said of himself that despite spending many years abroad in France and the USA his music was deeply rooted in the Poland of his formative years. I love its mixture of sweetness and passion.

It is useful to have each work on this disc in the chronological order of its composition since this enables an appreciation of his musical development. His Sonate quasi una fantasia from 1924 reveals a considerable hike in his maturity. The Scherzo is a real joy with both instruments appearing to tumble down the scales at one point. The entire sonata has a real feeling of unity of purpose with themes recurring to help tie the movements together. Tansman’s Sonatine No.1 is identified as a world premičre but that seems to be because it was written for either flute or violin and piano; the version with flute is better known. It is doubtful that this version is programmed much at all in the concert hall and what a shame that is because once heard it makes a real impression. Each of the five short movements is a delight including a jazzy Scherzo in the form of a fox-trot while the Finale has distinct Polish melodies.

Moving on to 1941 his Sonatine No.2 belies the fact that Tansman was about to leave his adopted homeland which he had come to love so much. He was to go into exile in the USA to escape the France of Nazi occupation. The mood is generally light and carefree which can be partly explained perhaps by the fact that it was written in Nice, as far away in France as it was possible to get from the sound of the jackboots that were assailing the streets of Paris. The second movement is especially sweet with the piano, to my ears, creating an air of mystery while the finale is upbeat and particularly cheery before things slow down. Themes from each of the two previous movements are brought back to end the work in an atmosphere of calm.

The final work on the disc is Tansman’s Fantaisie which comprises six linked movements. The first is brilliantly energetic and rushes along breathlessly creating a really exciting setting. This contrasts considerably with the second which is gorgeously presented. It is full of shadowy mystery which the piano at various points helps create by the repetition of two notes while the violin weaves up and down the scales. The Fuga injects a contemporary element into the proceedings with its atonal leanings. The fourth section grows seamlessly out of it staying in the same modernistic arena before the Canon reverts to an earlier age of sweetness and light. The finale in the form of a scherzo revisits elements from the opening Divertimento which neatly rounds things off in the same fast and furious atmosphere as its opening. It ends mid-phrase.

This music confirms my opinion of Tansman as an extremely energetic and inventive composer with a huge range of ideas that never seems to falter. Another disc I reviewed was of music by four Polish composers, Tansman amongst them. It included Tansman’s Triptyque written in 1930 for string orchestra. It is typical of writing at that time and embodies an exciting feeling of spontaneous exuberance and rhythmic energy. Everything I hear by Tansman makes me want to hear more and this disc is no exception. Readers of my reviews will already be acquainted with my opinion of Giorgio Koukl whose tour de force recording of all of Alexander Tcherepnin’s solo piano music on eight discs (review) made so much of an impression on me. It is of no surprise that he makes such a sympathetic partner here in music that treats each musician equally. What came as a real surprise — though I feel a little ashamed in saying it — is that the violinist Klaidi Sahatçi is originally from Albania a country about which we know almost nothing in any terms musically or otherwise. However, what an accomplished musician he is with a prodigious talent. His powers are in full evidence here whether he is called upon to command the proceedings or play with feather-like gentleness. Each of them helps present this wonderful music in the best possible light. I sincerely hope there is more of Tansman’s music for this combination to be discovered and that these two musicians will be playing it.

I understand that a disc of piano music by Paul Le Flem a French composer whose work is yet to be widely discovered is due to be released later this year played by Giorgio Koukl. I await that with bated breath.

Steve Arloff

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