Exposition Paris, 1937

Author: 
Lionel Salter

Exposition Paris, 1937

  • (La) Seine au Matin
  • Diner sur l'eau
  • (L') Espiègle au village de Lilliput
  • (Le) Tour de l'Exposition
  • Bourrée au pavillon d'Auvergne
  • Nuit colonaile
  • Retardée
  • Au Pavillon d'Alsace
  • Autour des montagnes russes
  • (Le) Train hanté
  • Souvenirs de l'exposition
  • (La) Danseuse aux lions
  • Scenic Railway
  • Espagnolade
  • (Le) Géant
  • (Un) Danseur roumain
  • (Le) Tourbillon mécanique

To celebrate the 1937 Exposition International in Paris, the publisher Salabert issued an album of eight piano pieces written for the occasion by French composers (most of them members of Les Six) and dedicated to Marguerite Long: fired by that example, or perhaps nettled that he hadn't been invited to contribute, Tcherepnin got together nine pieces (largely inspired by the Expo's funfair and circus) by friends of his, all emigres from various countries working in Paris, and this was published by the rival house of Eschig.
The young American pianist Bennett Lerner (a one-time pupil of Arrau) has recorded all these 17 trifles—only two last as much as four minutes—which together produce a telling picture of what musical styles were in fashion in that great cosmopolitan centre in the mid 1930s.
Though most of Tcherepnin's collection are somewhat more 'advanced' in idiom (especially Martinu's Le train hante), it has to be said that, on the whole, the earlier volume contains the more agreeable music: ironically enough, perhaps the best piece in it, the brilliant La retardee, was a replacement for Schmitt's original contribution (which was overlong and became his orchestral Op. 89 Suite). Milhaud offers a lolloping jaunt in his characteristically personal harmonic idiom, Tailleferre has a tongue-in-cheek waltz (with some alien digressions), Sauguet rambles past the Expo's colonial pavilions, picking up whiffs of their exoticism, Poulenc contents himself with an Auvergnat folk-dance. In the other volume the most rewarding pieces are Halffter's entertainingly fresh and spicy treatment of Spanish nationalist cliches (played here with a splendid crispness and buoyancy) and Mompou's atmospheric ''Planetarium'' and poetic ''Pavillon de l'Elegance''. The funfair's whirligig prompts Harsanyi into writing some noisy virtuosity, and the scenic railway figures in two disappointing pieces—Tcherepnin's own (he confessed he was drawn to the subject by the attraction's French name of Montagnes russes) and that by Honegger, who flatly stated that he ''had no taste for the fairground or the music-hall'' (and it sounds like it). Listening to all these miniatures one after the other is a bit like trying to dine off cocktail snacks, but taken individually there is much to enjoy, in a small way, in Lerner's rhythmically alert and sparkling performances.'

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