TANSMAN Music for Violin and Piano
Putting one’s finger on the personality of Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986) can be bewildering and defeating. His core sensibility is elusive, his influences diverse and always shifting throughout his long creative life. So amid the many Tansman orchestral recordings of recent years, this chronologically wide-ranging disc of violin-and-piano works – starting in 1917 with music written before his fateful departure from his native Poland to Paris, and ending in 1963, still more than 20 years before his death – charts his progression in a consistent medium without requiring one to digest the massive sonorities that he sometimes favoured in larger-scale works.
Once past the earlier, parlour-ish works, which have a certain prettiness Tansman hung on to in various guises, the last four pieces on the disc are consistent indeed, not quite following similar templates but definitely returning to the similar modes of expression that were characteristic of French music of his time, namely Stravinsky’s neo-classicism, Poulenc’s cabaret rowdiness and Honegger’s musically mechanised portrayal of the machine age. Time and again, Tansman loves to put violin and piano in related but separate simultaneous universes, alternately battling each other from a distance and trying to bridge their gaps. These influences seem to synthesise more in the later sonatas, not unlike Martin≤, but the bigger point of Tansman’s musical progression is how each succeeding sonata becomes more concentrated and precise in what it wants to say. Why the 1941 Sonatina No 2 and the 1952 Fantaisie don’t turn up regularly on recital programmes is beyond me.
The performances here could hardly be better studied or more charismatic. Klaidi Sahatçi is the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra’s concertmaster and plays a fine-sounding Strad. Giorgio Koukl is old enough to have studied with many important figures from Tansman’s time, such as Jacques Février, and knows to fuel this music with a kind of headlong momentum. No false sense of contemplation here. It’s possible that minute study of Tansman may reveal more depths but this disc exists for more scintillating purposes.