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Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986)
Piano Music - Volume 2
Eight Novelettes (1936) [24:24]
Three Preludes, en forme de blues (1937) [8:58]
20 pièces faciles sur des mèlodies populaires poloniases (1917-24) [14:18]
Suite in the Old Style (1929) [14:20]
Danny Zelibor (piano)
rec. 2015, Winspear Performance Hall, Denton, Texas
TOCCATA TOCC0265 [60:00]

The second volume in Toccata’s series devoted to Tansman’s piano music uncovers two premiere recordings. All the music comes from the two-decade period between 1917 and 1937, much of it reflecting the stylistic zeitgeist. Of the two premières, the more expansive is the sequence of Novelletes composed in 1936 (the Vingt Pièces is the other premiere). Danny Zelibor, an authoritative exponent of this repertoire, proves an equally perceptive booklet guide, correctly characterising the first of the sequence as ‘hazy’ – indeed it’s a little impressionistic, though it’s soon followed by a fast-fingered Etude scherzo and Javanese gamelan evocations with atmospheric drones and flutes. Never content with meeting expectations Tansman then draws on a Hungarian dance, and then on his own native Obertas, a polonaise, before segueing into the blues – though in this case it’s more a Slow Drag than anything more Down Home. The first part of the Prelude and Fugue is rather Satie-like which is not perhaps surprising given his long residence in Paris whilst the most intriguing of the set is the last, a chromatic and harmonically uneasy Improvisation.

The Trois Preludes, en forme de blues date from the following year and evoke a cocktail kind of Jazz, a kind of Lingua Franca that had been sweeping Europe since Jim Europe et al. The Vingt pièces faciles are not children’s pieces, though Tansman was more than adept at writing for children. Instead they offer brief charm – of the 20 only three breach the minute mark. Dedicated to Paderewski, these Polish dance pieces are appealing examples of Tansman’s powers of genial compression. Perhaps the most striking is No.16, a sensitive and thoughtful Moderato, but you’ll find examples of the polka, and oberek amongst others.

The Suite in the Old Style of 1929 also deals in dance patterns, this time Baroque-patterned ones. The opening is almost comically double-dotted whereas the Sarabande mines a strongly melancholic route – there is even, to my ears, something filmic about the writing here. There’s a most appealing Choral fugue, initially noble then incrementally declamatory. Jazzy elements iniltrate the Toccata where one can perhaps feel the influence of Prokofiev.

For the Tansman collector this first-ever survey of the complete piano music offers much rewarding listening. The level of invention is variable, but the generous affability and rhythmic vivacity of the music is never in doubt. Nor are the excellent performances.

Jonathan Woolf



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