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Michel LEGRAND (b.1932)
Concerto pour piano et orchestre (2016?) [30:24]
Concerto pour violoncelle et orchestre (2012) [33:29]
Michel Legrand (piano); Henri Demarquette (cello)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Mikko Franck
rec. 5-6, 25-26 Sept 2016, Auditorium de la Maison de la radio et Salle Colonne, Paris, France
SONY CLASSICAL 88985393722 [63:53]

Michel Legrand is a French composer, born in Paris. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire (1943-1950) where his teachers included Nadia Boulanger. He attained world fame primarily through his music for large and small screen - some two hundred scores. Among his cinema scores The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) with its song Windmills of Your Mind set the seal on his reputation. Before that his musical film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) - years later worked over to make a stage musical - carried his name far afield. He is also a jazz pianist and it is in jazz and more popular fields that he has been most active.

Here we are introduced to two of his concert works - concertos, one each for piano and for cello. They date from the present decade. The Piano Concerto enjoys the distinction of having the piano part played by the composer whose playing shows no sign of decline. Cellist Henri Demarquette who has been a tireless collaborator with the French Timpani label in giving new life to the music of Cras, Ropartz, Schmitt, Gaubert and Ibert here steps into a brighter international light. The Legrand Piano Concerto is a high tension, turbulence-driven romantic work while the Cello Concerto is a thing of elegance but again romantically inclined. Neither work carries even a hint of the stigmata of modernism.

In three movements the Piano Concerto, richly soused in romantic spirit and with a dreamy wander of a second movement, inhabits a bluesy world between Rachmaninov and Ravel. Its two outer movements bristle with heaving euphoria and melodic brilliance. The romance of the first movement contrasts with the edgier rhythmic emphasis of the finale and its Prokofiev-meets-Gershwin style brilliance. Unusually enough the aristocratic Cello Concerto is in five movements. The first of these has a merciless rhythmic bite accentuated by the orchestra. This extends the mood of the finale of the Piano Concerto. Much of this music is given savage teeth and merciless propulsion although Legrand does sometimes relent and allow the slightly unfocused dreamy quality to be found in the central movement of the Piano Concerto. Henri Demarquette's cello is kept in almost incessant song when it is not being driven. One of the most moving pieces of writing, despite its repetitive use of material, is the second movement which basks in exultant silver screen tendencies. The third movement casts aside immersion in the static and the surreal. We are back to thudding Stravinskian writing (The Rite of Spring) to which there's added a strong vein of desperation. The next movement mixes elements of the previous two with a more carefree liberation. Legrand's finale traces a steady descent into silence: musing, slightly melancholy, dreamy, sauntering, taking in the view, atmospheric and Delian. He gives the movement a title that is familiar from another context, La plus que lent. All credit to Legrand for ending the Cello Concerto in quiet self-effacing sincerity.

This Sony album is swish in every aspect: excellent sound, performances and design presentation. There are liner-notes by the composer, Demarquette and Frank. These are in French and English side by side. It's just a shame that the documentation leaves me guessing when these works were completed. This disc should draw in both Legrand fans, cinema music enthusiasts and those who like their contemporary classical music to have some sweet give and take. They will not be disappointed.

Rob Barnett



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