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Serge NIGG (1924-2008)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1954) [27:10]
Jean-Yves DANIEL-LESUR (1908-2002) 
Serenade for String Orchestra (1954) [14:14]
Sextet for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harpsichord (1948) [15:15]
Jean RIVIER (1897-1987)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1940) [21:28]
Pierre Barbizet (piano: Nigg)
Lélia Gousseau (piano: Serenade)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/André Cluytens (Nigg)
Orchestre de Chambre Toulouse/Louis Auriacombe (serenade)
Sextour Alma Musica, Amsterdam (sextet)
Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française/Manuel Rosenthal (Rivier)
rec. 1955-59, Paris; 1953, Amsterdam (sextet)

For those eager to explore the byways of 20th century French repertoire, there's much to satisfy the curiosity of the enquiring mind here. The three composers are not exactly household names and Jean Rivier is the only composer I have any extensive familiarity with.

I see that Serge Nigg's Piano Concerto with Pierre Barbizet is included in the recently released mammoth 65CD Erato box of André Cluytens: The Complete Orchestral Recordings. The two artists premiered it in 1954 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and went on to showcase it in Strasbourg, Marseille, the Vichy Festival, Prague and at the Lamoureux Concerts. The recording won the Grand Prix du Disque from the Charles Cros Academy in 1957.

Nigg had been introduced to the twelve-tone technique by René Leibowitz, and was the first French composer to write a dodecaphonic work with his 1946 Variations for Piano and 10 Instruments. By the time he came to write his Piano Concerto he'd softened his approach and abandoned his atonal stance. The work is well-written, though technically challenging for the soloist. Melodically lavish it incorporates Périgord folk elements.

Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur was a composition pupil of Charles Tournemire. In 1936 he co-founded, together with Messiaen, Jolivet and Baudrier, the group La Jeune France, whose aim was to write music “more human and less abstract”. His Serenade for Strings, although relatively lightweight, is bathed in innocuous charm. Consisting of three short (fast-slow-fast) movements, the finale is the one that will remain memorable. The Sextet for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harpsichord of 1948 is a more satisfying proposition. It's cast in four movements, titled Nocturne, Ricercare, Berceuse and Tarantelle. Compared to the Serenade, the interest lies in its more adventurous harmonic complexity. Any initial misgivings I had about the incorporation of a harpsichord into the score were swiftly dispelled. It works extremely well, adding another fascinating tonal lustre to the melting pot.

The earliest work here, written in 1940, is Jean Rivier's Piano Concerto. Lélia Gousseau (1909-1997) is the soloist. She taught at the Paris Conservatory (1961-1978) and at the École Normale de Musique. Her students included Anne Queffélec, Alain Raës and Pascal Devoyon. The first movement, neoclassically framed, is rather brash and haughty in mood. The slow movement, by contrast, is solemn, doleful and funereal. Indeed, the opening notes on the piano mimic a bell tolling. The gloomy melancholia is cast aside in an optimistc and cheery finale, spiky and angular in thrust. Gousseau's impressive technique does full justice to the intricate and demanding solo part.

I found this a fascinating disc, as all the music I was coming to for the first time. Forgotten Records’ remasterings do full justice to the recordings. No notes are provided, but those seeking background and context are directed towards various websites.
Stephen Greenbank




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