Polish composer Alexandre Tansman has been described by one of his biographers as a "child of luck," as he found doors opening for him seemingly wherever he went through most of his long life, whether it was in his adopted home of Paris, his years in Hollywood as an exile, or a pre-war visit with Emperor Hirohito. However, it doesn't seem as though posterity has regarded him in a very kindly way, as Tansman's once famous works were seldom performed even in the years before his death in 1986 and not at all afterward. One place where Tansman's music has found latter-day acceptance is in his native Poland, which he left in 1919 for Paris, never to return to live. A Tansman Foundation that hosts a competition for composers is based in Lodz where Tansman was born in 1897. So perhaps Tansman's stock is rising after all, and certainly this Chandos Super Audio CD, Tansman: Symphonies Vol. 1, can't hurt his fortunes.
This disc covers three symphonies from the interwar and war years, very well played by the Melbourne Symphony under Oleg Caetani. Tansman's music is often compared to that of his friend Stravinsky, and this is most apt in reference to his Symphony No. 5 in D major, a populist work that generated a great deal of interest on Tansman's behalf during his stay in America and might well have entered the repertoire had he managed to keep his reputation afloat. It is neo-Classical without being pithy and clever like the French composers in the group Les Six, nor tart like Prokofiev. By comparison, the Symphony No. 4 in C sharp minor is a little darker and more moody. Darkest of all is the never before recorded Symphony No. 6 "In Memoriam," and it is the most effective of the three. It is sort of like a pocket Beethoven Ninth in structure, only 20 minutes long with a chorus in the last movement, but rather than extolling the virtues of peace, this is a serious meditation on what is to be gained from the lack of it. Whereas the fourth and fifth symphonies have the Stravinskyian qualities of coldness and distance in spots, Tansman is firing on all cylinders in the sixth, and it is a rewarding and moving musical experience.
The sound on Chandos' Super Audio CDs frequently drops below comfortable listening levels, but in this case that is not an issue; the sound is great and quite three-dimensional, warm, and burnished. It is hard to tell how Alexandre Tansman will come out of this project, if he'll be regarded as a major composer of symphonies in the twentieth century or not, but if this first volume is any indication of what to expect, Chandos is doing right by him, and it should satisfy all who have an interest in the composer.