An Overlooked Neo-Classical Master

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Now that Alexandre Tansman’s orchestral works have received substantial attention on CD, it’s good to see his inventive and idiomatic piano music get its due, thanks in part to Belgian pianist Eliane Reyes’ passionate advocacy. She follows up her outstanding 2010 Naxos world-premiere recordings of the 24 Intermezzi and Petit Suite with four groups of small pieces and the three large-scale Ballades from 1941.

The Suite dans le style ancien updates baroque dance forms in spiffy neo-classical dress characterized by accessible tunes and tart harmonies that take root in Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Poulenc yet sound refreshingly original. Among the six 1930 Arabesques, a Mazurka in homage to Chopin begins with some deliberately “wrong note” melodic trickery, and eventually gives way to more than a few chords lifted (consciously or not) from the Gershwin songbook. The Fanfare’s orchestrally evocative rumbles put both pianist and the instrument’s bass register in peril, while the concluding Danza is a cross-rhythmic finger-twisting tour-de-force.

The lyrical purity and introspection of Bach’s chorale preludes provides the basis for the Eight Cantilenas, although the fifth movement titled “Invention” owes more to Debussy than to any Bach teaching piece. Each of the Ballades deserves a solid place in the central repertoire. They abound with stark declamatory gestures, brooding lyrical paragraphs, and sardonic music hall pastiches.

The bright and closely detailed sonics serve Tansman’s gnarly yet lean keyboard sonorities well, to say nothing of Reyes’ appropriately steel-edged, brilliantly articulated fingerwork. Let’s hope that this second of Reyes’ two Tansman releases signifies a long overdue cycle devoted to the composer’s complete solo piano output.

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Recording Details:

    Suite dans le style ancien (1929); Ballades Nos. 1-3 (1941); Arabesques (1930); Cinq Impressions (1934); Eight Cantilenas (Homage to J.S. Bach) (1949)

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