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Jack Sullivan
American Record Guide, May 2011

This is one of the most satisfying of Naxos’s fascinating excavations of obscure but rewarding 20th Century piano music. We hear a lot about Alexandre Tansman, a Polish-born composer who lived in Paris and the United States, undertook the first world tour by a Western composer, and was championed by Toscanini, Koussevitzky, and Charlie Chaplin; but performances of his music are scarce. Here is a dazzling selection of his piano music, all but one track world premiere recordings, played with brilliant color and sensitivity by the young pianist, Eliane Reyes.

The early Petite Suite and the better known Valse-Impromptu are attractive inclusions, but the main attraction here is three books of Intermezzos written 1939–40 in France: 24 inventive, sometimes deeply affecting miniatures. The opening piece has a Ravelian charm and mysterious atmosphere; several others meander through harmonic mists, then either beautifully resolve into a major key or drift ever farther into enigma. Others, such as 18, have a war-time sense of trauma and disturbance. The fast pieces are dry and puckish, with a touch of Stravinsky. The overtly lyrical works such as 19 are gorgeously introspective. Sometimes a rigorous exercise in Bachian counterpoint will emerge, as in 6 and 11. The latter ends with a surprising, breathtaking cadence, exquisitely voiced by Reyes. There are also touches of Fauré, Prokofieff, and even Brahms; but Tansman’s distinctive chromaticism is always present in these varied microcosms.

Reyes performs with poetic sensitivity and deftness. She has staccato wit in the fast pieces and liquid sensuality in the quiet ones. Highly recommended for anyone curious about this touted but strangely under-performed composer and for anyone looking for engaging new piano repertory.



Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, May 2011

The Petite Suite is a collection of seven miniatures completed in 1919, and thus written before the composer moved to Paris. The style and emotional ambit are reminiscent of early Debussy (“Berceuse,” “Méditation,” “Scherzino”) and Ravel (“Petite Chanson polonaise,” “Plainte orientale,” “Caprice”), though the nonfunctional chords under the tonal theme in “Vision” may be the most prescient of the works, insofar as Tansman’s future was concerned. Finally, the Valse-Impromptu of 1940 is a miniature singlet that again recalls Ravel, but with far greater sophistication than in the Petite Suite, and adding a slight smile of friendly parody.

Eliane Reyes is a new name to me. She’s in her mid-30s, a chamber performer and soloist, who has also taught at the Paris Conservatory for the last five years. Her technique is certainly equal to the task of the more formidable intermezzi that were written for a pianist of Tansman’s own virtuosic skill. The Bartók-like brutality of No. 18 never becomes mere hammering, but instead is a study in balanced sonority. No. 23, a muted study titled “Hommage à Brahms,” reveals both a discreet range of colors and a refined sense of rubato. The phrasing of the Fauré-like No. 7 arises naturally from within the music, rather than sitting on top of it; the fugue in No. 6 is performed with notable articulation and even-handed playing. I could imagine other approaches to this music—a more frenzied No. 6, for example, or a less incisive, more rounded No. 11—but not a better one. This is fine music-making, exactly suited to its task, without superfluous flourishes.

What makes this album still more attractive is that it avoids duplication with Margaret Fingerhut’s sensitively rendered recital of Tansman (Chandos 10527) that I reviewed in 2009. In short, fans of Tansman will certainly want this release.



Bryce Morrison
Gramophone, March 2011

The piano music of a Pole in Paris coloured by wartime conditions

Time was when only the merest fraction of music was available on record. Today the situation could hardly be more different. Every nook and cranny is offered up for scrutiny, and so it is that Eliane Reyes, a young and wonderfully gifted pianist, gives us a world premiere recording of Alexandre Tansman’s 24 Intermezzos and Petite Suite and, as an accessible encore, the Valse-Impromptu.

The first two of the four books of the Intermezzos (1939–40) were composed in Paris, their mood dictated by dispiriting wartime conditions and reflecting a curious slant on Romanticism. Brief, fluid and exotic, they are alive with many unnerving twists of harmony and direction. Gérald Hugon’s long and scholarly notes suggest parallels with a wide selection of composers (en passant he mentions Brahms, Fauré, Chopin, Szymanowski, Bartók and Ravel), and yet it is difficult to feel that Tansman’s mercurial figurations are complemented by sufficient melodic distinction. The overall mood of all the Intermezzo is claustrophobic and introspective, and you will look in vain for much lightening of mood. The extensive lamentoso of Book 4 No 3 is, however, undeniably powerful, reflecting in its desolation something of Scriabin’s late and morbidly obsessive style. Elsewhere the writing, while outwardly varied, is too often confined within a narrow range of intervals. But Eliane Reyes takes a different view and her performances are memorably refined, dextrous and committed. She is excellently recorded and this is clearly a disc for explorers.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, February 2011

Like his contemporary Nicolas Slonimsky, Tansman was one of the many East-European artists and composers who were drawn to Paris, which following the end of the first world war became the cultural centre of Europe. He also worked mostly in small forms, and his Sonatina for Bassoon and Piano (1952) helped gain him a good-sized following. The main work on this disc is the diary-like 24 Intermezzi that range all over the musical map. No less an attraction on this CD is the performer: pianist Eliane Reyes is a richly endowed artist with an idiomatic command and great facility along with a singing tone. Bravo!



Byzantion
MusicWeb International, February 2011

For a prolific composer who led such a long and interesting life, Tansman’s music remains surprisingly neglected. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that the very best of that music is not to be found in his piano compositions, many of which were collections of miniatures—of which the Petite Suite featured here is a good example.

Whilst the Suite and the Valse-Impromptu are little more than bagatelles, the 24 Intermezzi constitute an important work, and deserve a place in the repertoire of any pianist, and in the heart and mind of every pianophile. Tansman composed the Intermezzi in four books of six, and they are best heard that way, at separate sittings, to allow the listener to appreciate fully the differences hidden behind the almost jokey title. And there are differences: in mood, tempo, virtuosity…in so many ways, in fact, that the listener will find several contenders for favourites in each of the books.

These works were written in troubled times after the outbreak of World War II, yet this is not dark, grim music, by any means; nor is it particularly Polish or French; like Chopin, Tansman was a Pole who spent most of his life in France. It is profound, however; distantly reminiscent of Chopin’s 24 Preludes in many places (try No.8, for example), but in its 20th century context sounding more like a curious mixture of Scriabin, Fauré, Szymanowski, Prokofiev and, for good measure, Granados.

The Petite Suite is a collection of seven very short pieces—five come in at well under a minute. The Valse-Impromptu is another very short work, appealing in a Gershwin-type way, but, like the Suite, with little about it that demands more than a single hearing.

Though few of the works on this CD are particularly difficult, there is still ample scope for artistry, of which Eliane Reyes has plenty. There are no real comparisons to be made, however, because the Intermezzi and the Petite Suite are world première recordings.

Neither the piano nor the recording are without their faults: the piano is very closely miked and a little too often mechanical noise is clearly audible, at least through headphones, and particularly in the Intermezzi. In No.2, No.7 and No.8 in particular it is quite maddening.



Laima
WRUV Reviews, January 2011

Polish born (but lived in France) Alexandre Tansman (1897–1986) wrote these emotionally effective piano Intermezzi for unknown reasons, but they are dedicated to individuals important to Tansman. Short, impressionistic, lovely.



Allmusic.com, April 2010

Alexandre Tansman was a mid-20th century composer who stuck to his own personal composition style—essentially a neo-classical one—and remained a generally admired talent during his life even when other composers, including those he respected, such as Stravinsky, turned increasingly to serialism. After his death, however, his reputation faded, and his music is often neglected except for several works for guitar. On this 2010 album, Eliane Reyes gives listeners a chance to hear his piano miniatures, a form in which he worked his entire career. The bulk of the recording is devoted to his cycle of 24 Intermezzi, set out in four books. The one characteristic that is shared by nearly all the intermezzi is Tansman’s use of tonality and harmony, wandering between keys and modes in a way that is very reminiscent of Scriabin’s music. The Intermezzo No. 21, which Tansman reused in a piano sonata, actually also shares other traits with Scriabin’s Vers la flamme. Many of the intermezzi are melancholy and/or introspective, played with gracefulness and suppleness by Reyes. There are others that are spikier or, in the instance of No. 18, downright aggressive. The way Reyes switches moods so easily between the gentler No. 17 and No. 18 is impressive. Tansman seems also to have had a playful side. No. 6 is in sharp counterpoint and appropriately finishes with a Bach-ian cadence. The ones marked scherzando or capriccioso are just that: joking or whimsical. The Petite Suite is the earliest set of miniatures Tansman wrote, dating 20 years earlier than the Intermezzi, and like the larger set, each selection represents a single mood, but these are a little more stable in tonality. The final piece that Reyes presents is the 1940 Valse-Impromptu, something of a miniature cousin to Ravel’s La valse. Reyes’ skillful presentation of Tansman’s music should be well-appreciated, and those who enjoy the piano music of Stravinsky, Scriabin, and Ravel are likely to find something pleasing in these pieces as well.






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