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André MATHIEU (1929-1968)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op.25 (orch. Jaques Marchand) [36:34]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
An American in Paris [18:14]
Alain Lefèvre (piano)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. live, Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, USA, February 2017
ANALEKTA AN29299 [54:48]

Analekta are a Canadian record company whose discs have rarely come my way in over 30 years of collecting CD’s, and a quick check on their website reveals that they were founded in 1987 with the goal of becoming one of Canada’s leading record companies. They are now the largest independent classical label in Canada, and everyone who cares about recorded classical music should applaud them for their efforts.

I rather wish that one of their earlier releases devoted to the music of André Mathieu had come my way before this one, because I might then have formed an opinion based on a piece completed by him, rather than on an orchestration by someone else of a work for two pianos. Rather than filling the CD with more of his music, Analekta have used Gershwin’s An American in Paris, and I suppose that the live recordings were taken from the same concert.

The genesis of this Third Concerto is rather involved, and suffice it to say that it was completed in two piano form and then part of the slow movement was used as a film soundtrack. Mathieu was most upset at the butchery carried out in this adaptation. It was subsequently recorded by Philippe Entremont in a re-arrangement, and then again by the pianist on this CD in 2003 using another arrangement. In 2008, the original autograph score was discovered, and it was considered to be sufficiently different from the earlier recordings to justify a new orchestration.

I have not mentioned that Mathieu was considered to be a musical prodigy, and that this piece, in its two-piano form, was written by him at the age of 14. Unfortunately, he was unable to cope with a period of instruction under Honegger in Paris in 1947, and slowly succumbed to alcoholism. Whilst he composed many works, they never received much exposure and he died in obscurity in 1968, aged just 39.

Given that Mathieu’s inclination was for ripe romanticism, it seems natural to me to compare him with that other slightly younger prodigy, Erich Korngold, but the absence of original orchestral material makes such a comparison impossible. The orchestrator, Jaques Marchand, took three years to orchestrate the two-piano score, composing a cadenza for the first movement. Perhaps he based his orchestration on the evidence supplied by later orchestral works of Mathieu – we are not told.

The booklet notes make no claims as to the structure of the piece, the movements being a sequence, or, one might say, a profusion of themes. At the age of 14, Mathieu had not yet achieved an understanding of musical structure, but his melodic powers are in full use in this hyper-romantic effusion. Imagine the teenage Korngold and Resphigi swirling in an early 20th century orchestral pot-pourri, with occasional hints of American Dance bands of the period, and you will get the idea. The piano is used in the grand romantic manner – you just need to hear the torrents of notes in the opening few minutes to appreciate that fact. However, multiple melodies and a cadenza do not a true concerto movement make, but I don’t think that it matters much – if he had entitled it ‘Canadian Rhapsody’, I wouldn’t even be making this comment.

As mentioned above, part of the central movement was used as film music, and this 16-minute piece, the longest movement by far, contains quite beguiling material. Although the ear soon latches onto the melodies, their very repetitive use soon begins to make itself felt, as does the popular American, at times mildly jazz-inflected, orchestration. As is so often the case in tonal music designed to be accessible, the repetitive use of cymbal clashes at climaxes is a noticeable feature. To my irritation, Rachmaninov’s name is mentioned in the booklet’s description of the work, but when I listen to the Russian’s concertos, there is always a sense of propulsive direction underlying the musical journey, not to mention more character to the tunes, something that I find missing here.

If the movement were to be shortened by about five minutes, it would be just the sort of thing that daytime Classic FM editors would seize on with a glad cry. This sounds horribly patronising, but it is probably true. In justice to the composer, he was just 14 at the time, and it is too easy to forget that fact.

The last movement is just over half as long as the middle andante and its propulsive nature makes a welcome contrast to the slow movement.

I cannot imagine that the recording of ‘An American in Paris’ will be the reason why most people will want this disc, but it is a performance of an American work by an American orchestra and conductor and this is a plus. The performance seems to me to be recommendable, and was evidently enjoyed by the audience, who applaud enthusiastically at the end. There is no audience noise during the performances, and the recording is fine, with a decent balance between soloist and orchestra in the concerto.
Jim Westhead



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