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Henri TOMASI (1901-1971)
Complete Solo Piano Works
Emilie Capulet (piano)
rec. 2017-2018, University of West London.
First Recordings
CALLIOPE CAL2069 [2 CDs: 87:25]

Henri Tomasi was a French classical composer and conductor. He was born in Marseille on 17 August 1901 to a family who originated from Corsica. At the age of seven he entered the Conservatoire de Musique de Marseille, and during those early summers he stayed with his grandmother in Corsica, where he learned traditional Corsican songs. World War I delayed his entrance into the Paris Conservatoire, but in 1921 he eventually began his studies there. His teachers included Philippe Gaubert, Vincent d'Indy, Georges Caussade, and Paul Vidal. In 1927 he won the ‘Prix de Rome’. World War II marked a turning point in Tomasi’s fortunes. He began to achieve international recognition, when previously his reputation had been confined to his native France. He now became one of the foremost French composers of his day. He was drawn especially towards opera, composing twelve in all between 1941-1971. Yet, instrumental music also seemed to stir a passion. He wrote twenty concertos for some of the most eminent soloists around at the time. A car accident in 1952, in which he broke one of his legs, put an end to his conducting career four years later. He also had to contend with encroaching deafness. His remaining years were devoted to composition. He died in 1971.

Listening to these solo piano works which are, incidentally, first recordings, one encounters music with plenty of appeal. His desire was to write music that emanated from the heart, so there’s lavish lyricism and profuse melodic generosity.

Capulet opens with Paysages, three short pieces dating from 1930 and premiered a year later by Jean Doyen one of its dedicatees. The first piece Marine evokes the soaring of seagulls, borne on gusts of wind. Clairière savours the teeming life of the woodland glade. Birdsong, enveloped in luminous hues are sewn into the fabric of the third piece Forêt, pointing the way to Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux which was to come some decades later. Three dances follow. Fantoches (1931) opens a window onto a prankish world of mischievous puppets. Minuet dates from 1924 when the composer was still a student. My personal favorite is Tarentelle (1936), in which Tomasi hearkens back to “the soul of Corsica” in its jaunty “leaps and bounds” rhythms. In 1929 Tomasi composed two sets of Pièces Brèves, each consisting of three short pieces. Et s'il revenait un jour from the first set is particularly delightful. Capulet achieves a rich panoply of brightly colourful sonorities. Espiègleries similarly requires a contrasting palette to depict its mischief and whimsy. Fast forward to 1964 and we have the last piece Tomasi wrote for solo piano Danseuses de Degas. Capulet describes it as “a drunken waltz-like rhythm……..teetering on the edge of collapse”.

The wide-eyed innocence of childhood is the subject of Le Coin de Claudinet (1948), a suite of twelve pieces cast in the vein of Schumann’s Album for the Young, Debussy’s Children’s Corner and other such cycles. It was composed for his son’s fourth birthday, with each of the pieces lasting under a minute. The cameos depict such things as trumpet calls of tin soldiers, a sad song of a doll, a galloping toy horse and a musical box. The earliest and most substantial piece on the disc is Le Poème de Cyrnos from 1918, penned when Tomasi was only sixteen. The work has never been published and exists in manuscript form only. It begins with a doleful Corsican funeral lament, followed by a set of dramatic variations.

CD 2 houses the thirty minute score Féérie Laotienne. It started life as a ballet on a libretto by the Belgian poet Jose Bruyr, premiered in 1939. Tomasi later arranged it as a symphonic poem and solo piano suite. The ten pieces showcase a blend of exotic styles including jazz, pentatonic scales, modal harmonies and off-beat ostinatos. It’s an intoxicating and heady mix, to which Capulet brings some colourful and imaginative playing.

Beautifully recorded, here’s a programme of music packed with personality and too good to miss. Emilie Capulet is a persuasive advocate of these captivating scores, and she provides her own annotations to support her endeavor. For those who have yet to discover Tomasi’s music, this release constitutes an ideal primer.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Rob Barnett

CD 1
Paysages (1930) [11:28]
- 1. Marine (Mouettes) [3:56]
- 2. Clairière (Matin d'été) [3:00]
- 3. Forêt (Chants d'oiseaux) [4:32]

4. Fantoches (1931) [2:11]

5. Menuet (1924) [2:39]

6. Tarentelle (1936) [3:52]

Pièces Brèves - Suite 1 (1929) [5:49]
- 7. Et s'il revenait un jour... [2:00]
- 8. Menuet [2:08]
- 9. Le lied que chante mon cœur [1:41]

Pièces Brèves - Suite 2 (1929) [5:56]
- 10. Parade [1:59]
- 11. Air à Danser [2:16]
- 12. Espiègleries [1:41]

- 13. Danseuses de Degas (1964) [2:26]

Le Coin de Claudinet (1948) [6:46]
- 14. Réveil du Petit Soldat [0:35]
- 15. Poupée Triste [0:36]
- 16. Berceuse pour la Petite Cousine Arabe [0:33]
- 17. Le Petit Cheval [0:30]
- 18. Le Clown et l'Ecuyère [0:36]
- 19. Le Petit Jésus et sa Maman [0:33]
- 20. Berger, bergère (Santons) [0:29]
- 21. La Boîte à Musique [0:40]
- 22. Concert des Petits Anges Musiciens [0:32]
- 23. La Berceuse à Claudinet [0:40]
- 24. Les Rois Mages (Santons) [0:30]
- 25. Les Tambourinaires (Santons) [0:32]

- 26. Berceuse de la Belle et la Bête (Le Silence de la Mer) (1929) [4:42]

- 27. Le Poème de Cyrnos (1918) [10:22]

CD 2
Féérie Laotienne (1939) [30:52]
- 1. Entrée [0:25]
- 2. Cortège et Danse [5:15]
- 3. Scherzo pour une fête de nuit [4:30]
- 4. Invocation à la lune [3:41]
- 5. Pantomime [1:37]
- 6. Danse des sorciers [2:30]
- 7. Cette lune nous gêne [0:18]
- 8. Offrande aux Dieux [2:20]
- 9. Les Cercles Magiques [1:08]
- 10. Final [9:08]

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