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Jacques de MENASCE (1905-1960)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1939) [23:41]
Divertimento on a children's song for piano and strings (1940) [6:49]
Petite suite for the piano (1951) [17:56]
Jacques de Menasce (piano), Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera / Edmund Appia
rec. March-April 1953

Until this release came along, I'd never heard of Jacques de Menasce, and no, he's not French. He was born in Bad Ischl in Austria into a wealthy Jewish family. One attestation of their wealth is the fact that, as a boy, Jacques was painted by Oskar Kokoschka. His formal studies were at the Vienna Music Academy with Joseph Marx, Paul Pisk and Emil von Sauer. He received much encouragement from Alban Berg, a result of which was his first piano concerto. His compositional output was fairly meagre, and includes two piano concertos, a sonata for viola and piano, which was championed by Lillian Fuchs, Hebrew Melodies for Violin and Piano, and the song cycles Quatre Chansons, Outrenuit and Pour une Princesse, the Divertimento on a Children's Song and the Petite Suite pour le Piano. Recordings of his music are very much in short supply. The works featured on this release appeared on a Vanguard Classic LP (VRS-442), from which these transfers were taken. There's also an LP (Composers Recordings, Inc) which contains the Viola Sonata, Piano Sonata No. 2, Violin Sonata No. 1 and InstantanÚs, a collection of short piano pieces.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 dates from 1939 and is distinctly neoclassical in style. The first movement, especially, sounds as though it could have originated from the pen of Prokofiev. Resolute, confident and virtuosic, the pianist hardly has time to draw a breath. A serenely tranquil Intermezzo follows, its soothing balm offering some much needed respite. Then comes a gentil Menuetto, preceding a vigorous finale, again very much Ó la Prokofiev. The orchestra is that of the Vienna State Opera, and the conductor is the composer's friend Edmond Appia (1894-1961), with de Menasce himself as pianist. The same forces come together for the Divertimento on a children's song for piano and strings, composed a year later in 1940. The catchy, memorable tune undergoes several variations, each imaginatively forged.

The Petite Suite for the piano, composed in 1951, consists of five short piano pieces. This time the spirit of Poulenc seems to hover in the background. The Rondino (1) is sprightly and vivacious, whilst Berceuse (2) basks in slumber. Moment Musical (3) is mercurial and capricious, and the lapidary Romanza (4) is dreamlike. A bustling Toccatina completes the cycle.

The composer lacks a highly individual voice, and much of the music is derivative. Allowances have to be made for the dated mono sound, primitive by today's standards. The balance of the orchestral sound favours the upper registers. As is generally the norm with Forgotten Records, there are no accompanying annotations. There's a limited amount of information on the internet for those wishing to explore further.

Stephen Greenbank

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