Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986) was a French composer who was born and educated in his native Poland; he moved the Paris in 1920 where he met and was encouraged by Ravel and Stravinsky. He received much acclaim in his early years but eventually his music became less often played. In my fifty-plus years of concert-going I've only heard one of his works: his Second Piano Concerto which impressed me a good deal. And I'd heard little on record over the years. This disc featuring solo piano works has, then, turned out to be a lucky discovery for me. I've been playing the 24 Intermezzi virtually non-stop for the past few days, entranced by their style and substance. Tansman's music is heavily influenced by the Impressionists, with chords of the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth making frequent appearances along with chromaticism and polytonalism. It is hard to describe his music but there is a good deal of Scriabin, Ravel and insistent Stravinskyan polyrhythms. There are Polish features as well -- mazurka rhythms and rustic folk tunes. The newly developed neoclassicism of the 1920s and 1930s also informs his style. Being Jewish, he and his family were forced to flee France in 1940 (just after he had received French citizenship) and eventually settled in Los Angeles, joining the expatriate community of composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Milhaud. He wrote several film scores while in Southern California before moving back to France in 1946.
The 24 Intermezzi were written in 1939/40 in his last years in France. They are brief entries in a compositional diary. Although they don't have subtitles, they convey moods, events and opinions of the composer. Taken as a group they are fresh, appealing and strikingly original while fairly easy for the listener to grasp. One hears facile counterpoint (No. 11), ostinati (as in the four-note bass line in the march-like No. 12), an atonal toccata à la George Perle [but years before Perle!], highly original harmonies (No. 13), homage to earlier composers (Fauré in No. 7, Bach in No. 11, Chopin in No. 16, Brahms in No. 23), all wrapped in Tansman's easily recognizable style. This collection of Intermezzi is not well-known; indeed, this is first recording of them I've ever run into. But they are worthy of a place in the solo piano recital repertoire. They have been a real discovery for me.
The disc is rounded out by the early 'Petite Suite' (1917-1919), written when Tansman was still in Poland and the brief Valse-Impromptu (1940) which lasts all of 1:46. The Petite Suite, written when Tansman was 20 or so, sounds like him but clearly owes a good deal to Scriabin and Chopin. The Valse-Impromptu was written for a ballet dancer, one Lycette Darsonval, and is a rather more-chromatic-than-Ravel dance
The pianist here, Eliane Reyes, is a young Frenchwoman who has been rightly praised by such luminaries as Martha Argerich and Vladimir Ashkenazy. Her playing on this disc is supple, delicately perfumed, nuanced, musicianly. I will be playing this disc a lot over the years I suspect.