A good example of a release that gets points for its adventuresome attitude, this album brings an innovative program anchored by a work that was once internationally successful. Alexandre Tansman, born in what is now Poland and of Jewish background (he always identified himself as Polish), was a composer and an impressive virtuoso on the piano. He was drawn to Paris by the city's avant-garde musical atmosphere, and in 1927 he took his Piano Concerto No. 2 on the road to Boston. It's not generally known that George Gershwin, in attendance, threw his arms around Tansman and said, "Marvelous! Wonderful! Splendid! You are a genius!" Tansman became one of Gershwin's hosts during his Paris trip the following year. Another popular figure whose path crossed Tansman's was the concerto's dedicatee, Charlie Chaplin, who later helped get the composer out of France a step ahead of Hitler's dogs. Despite these all-star recommendations, one can understand why the work didn't hold up; it hit all the bases for the mid-'20s, and it was a keyboard-spanning and crowd-pleasing piece, but its different parts don't always feel as though they have much to do with one another. The best news here is the performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Israeli-born pianist David Greilsammer, American conductor Steven Sloane, and the thoroughly Gallic Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. You might have thought the challenging Tansman score and the overall novelty of the program would have provided the musicians with ambition enough, but on top of this they offer an entirely fresh Rhapsody in Blue, with a rhythmically very free approach from Greilsammer contrasting with the played-straight orchestral parts. The Rhapsody in Blue has never felt more like jazz than it does here, and the major melody in the middle of the work, generally played for sheer emotional payoff, is approached and developed with unique subtlety. The Gershwin is worth the purchase price all by itself. Not so the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra of Nadia Boulanger, a rather academic work in the Franck style, but like everything else here it fits into the mood, and the entire project has an X factor of sheer freshness. Booklet notes, which include an interview with Greilsammer, are in French and English, and the live sound from the Salle Pleyel in Paris is excellent.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Piano Concerto No. 2|