About this Recording
8.573200 - LOUSSIER, J.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / PADEREWSKI, I.J.: Violin Sonata (Kostecki, Iwicki, Hauer, Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra)

Jacques Loussier (b. 1934): Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Percussion • Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Tabla
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941): Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 13


Born in Angers on 26 October 1934, Jacques Loussier started playing the piano at the age of ten. Six years later, he entered the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique in Paris where he studied with Yves Nat, whose gifts as a pianist had been encouraged by Debussy. Loussier duly became one of Nat’s most accomplished pupils, heading the conservatory’s piano class of over 500 students. After he left the Conservatoire, he began a freelance career which saw travels to South America and the Middle East as well as accompanying Catherine Sauvage and Charles Aznavour. In 1959 Loussier hit upon the idea that was to make his international reputation, combining his interest in jazz with a love of Bach when he founded the Play Bach Trio that used Bach’s compositions as the basis for jazz improvisation. The trio immediately caught the public imagination. In their live appearances, tours and concerts, plus a succession of recordings centred on those made for Decca during 1960–63, they achieved a breakthrough to worldwide popular commercial success—in the process selling over six million albums.

During its heyday, the trio broadened its range of activities with Loussier double-tracking pieces on organ and piano. The original trio ended in 1978 and, two years later, Loussier retired to Provence to compose, research and record. He had already composed for film and ballet, and established his own recording studio at Miraval, near Nice, where, in addition to composing for acoustic and electronic instruments, he hosted many figures from the rock world. His music of the 1980s explored the integration of new technology with conventional instruments. He wrote suites for piano, synthesizers, percussion and bass, and also rock-jazz-classical fusion compositions including Pulsions, Pagan Moon and Fusions sous La Mer. The tercentenary of Bach’s birth in 1985 saw Loussier reform the Play Bach Trio with two new partners—combining jazz, rock and modern classical with a mix of jazz and Bach. The trio has kept up a busy touring schedule, though one leaving Loussier time to write his own compositions. In 1986 he wrote the mass Lumières, his first full-scale work for symphony orchestra and one which continued his long-term exploration of the synthesis of musical genres, concertos for trumpet and violin (both 1988), a suite for strings Tableaux vénétiens, and a ballet Trois Couleurs (1989) to celebrate the bicentenary of the French Revolution.

Loussier’s violin concertos find his predilection for fusing jazz and classical elements at its most economical. The First Violin Concerto, written in 1987–88 (though subsequently revised), is scored for groups of woodwind, brass, strings, and also a partially improvised percussion component. The four strongly contrasted movements each have a defining subtitle. The first movement, Prague, opens with brusque exchanges between strings and percussion, against whose incisive syncopation the soloist sets off with an impassioned theme that latterly takes on a more expressive element. The music also evinces pronounced jazz characteristics as it unfolds, propelled forward by an increasingly demonstrative response by the percussion. At length it heads into an extended ‘break’ for soloist and percussion, before the initial theme resumes to bring about a forceful close. The second movement, L’homme nu, begins with icy tremolo strings over which the soloist unfolds a yearningly expressive melody that draws the strings in a heightened threnody. This is soon cut short, however, and the third movement, Buenos Aires Tango, is launched by the soloist in partnership with strings over a typically suave tango rhythm. The soloist is given ample chance to exhibit its eloquent upper register, prior to an understatedly nonchalant close. The fourth movement, Tokyo, now begins with atmospheric writing for strings and percussion—the rhythmic profile gradually coming into focus before the soloist heads off with a bracing theme that elicits a suitably combative response from the orchestra. At length activity briefly ceases, only for a crescendo on strings and percussion to lead back into the main theme then on to a vividly confrontational close.

The Second Violin Concerto followed in 2006 to a commission from the Menuhin Festival. Perhaps acknowledging the founder’s fascination with Indian music, it features a prominent part for the tabla—while the violin part includes numerous opportunities for improvisation. The first movement begins with a sardonic theme for the soloist, heard over martial strings and capering tabla. The music becomes more rhythmically inflected, and the string response accordingly more subtle, prior to the peremptory close. The second movement begins with ethereal string harmonies, before a lilting motion provides the backdrop against which the soloist unfolds a lengthy and increasingly wistful melody that exhibits often agile repartee with the strings—these two becoming ever more closely intertwined as a quizzical close is reached. Next comes a cadenza which builds steadily to a powerful climax, whereupon the third movement sets off with a hectic dance for soloist and strings—the tabla providing a rhythmic counterpoint that keeps them company through to a close of uninhibited panache.

The one thing the figures on this disc have in common is that composition latterly came to feature prominently within the respective careers of (wholly different) virtuosi of the piano. Ignacy Paderewski was born on 6 November 1860 in Kurylówka. At eighteen he graduated from the Conservatory in Warsaw and became professor of piano there. Two years later, having moved to Berlin, he took up studies with Friedrich Kiel and Heinrich Urban, then moved to Vienna where he studied with Theodor Leschetizky. He made his début in Vienna in 1887, followed by Paris a year later and capped by a hugely successful United States début at New York in 1891. He completed a Piano Concerto in 1888 and the Polish Fantasy in 1893, as well as a Piano Sonata and numerous short pieces. The Piano Concerto [Naxos 8.554020] was first performed by Anna Esipova under Hans Richter and became an immediate success. Poland during that time was struggling for freedom and Paderewski turned his attention to a national opera. Manru, based on Kraszewski’s House Outside the Village, was finished in 1900 but after early performances disappeared from the stage. A similar patriotic vein is to be found in his Polonia Symphony, first performed at Lausanne in 1908 then given in Boston by Max Fiedler. In 1910 Paderewski appeared at the inaugural concert of the Warsaw Philharmonic and gave a speech urging independence for Poland. Although he spent much time abroad, including Switzerland and the United States, national concerns led him to become new Poland’s first prime minister in 1919. By 1922, he had resumed his concert career and later undertook the task of editing all Chopin’s works. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Paderewski was forced to flee to the United States, where he died on 29 June 1941. He was buried at the Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.

Composed in 1882, the Violin Sonata is arguably the finest of Paderewski’s earlier works. The first movement starts with an eloquent theme for the violin over an intricate piano accompaniment, at length making way for a more resolute and rhythmically defined theme as takes the exposition through to its engaging close. After a formal repeat, the development looks to the movement’s ‘fantasia’ marking with its free-wheeling and inventive discussion of both themes, following which there is a modified reprise—the initial theme now unfolding at greater length—then a coda which draws on aspects of both themes prior to the regretful close. The second movement, marked Intermezzo, begins with halting exchanges between the two instruments, out of which a gently expressive theme emerges which takes on greater substance before the piano makes a return to the initial exchanges. From here the main theme resumes, touching on greater heights of expressiveness before reaching its winsome close. The third movement sets off with a fervent theme that briefly yields to one of greater repose before continuing on its charged course. After a repeat of the exposition, the development makes resourceful use of both themes, with the violin’s dextrous pizzicato complementing the piano’s limpid passage work, before a heightened reprise which throws the character of both themes into greater relief, followed by a coda that sees the work through to its decisive close.

Richard Whitehouse

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