Koukl Plays Tansman

gp788 cover

TANSMAN: 11 Interludes. Hommage à Arthur Rubinstein. 2 Pièces Hébraïques. 4 Piano Moods. Prélude et Toccata. 6 Caprices: I-V. Visit to Israel. Étude / Giorgio Koukl, pno / Grand Piano GP788

The wonderful Hungarian pianist Giorgio Koukl, whose work I’ve reviewed several times previously, gives us here a most unusual disc of piano music by the Polish-cum-Parisian composer Alexandre Tansman. Whereas most of the previous releases I’ve seen of his music focuses on works from the late 1920s through the early 1940s, the earliest works on the present CD start from the ‘40s (the Caprices of 1941 and the Prélude et Toccata and 4 Piano Moods from 1943-44), with the remainder dating from 1955 to 1973. All are first recordings.

Tansman’s grasp of modern harmony had clearly grown by 1955, when the 11 Interludes were written. Whereas before he used such moments somewhat sparingly, by this time they were a continuous underpinning of his work, ranging from bitonal to amorphous depending on the piece in question. The third interlude is a perfect example, beginning with a series of crushed chords that somehow interlock yet remain chromatic in movement. In the seventh interlude, marked “Allegro con molto,” the feeling is anything but Allegro; it’s more like an elusive, mysterious-sounding medium-tempo piece played at a very soft volume level.

Moreover, this strange harmonic world is also present in the 1973 two-part homage to pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who so far as I know never played a modern piece of music in his life. Undoubtedly the “homage” was simply to the fact that he was a Jewish Pole like Tansman, and one of the most famous of them at that.

In his later years Tansman turned to his Jewish heritage, using Hebrew musical themes more frequently, and both the 2 Pièces Hébraïques and the nine-part Visit to Israel are part of that facet of his output—yet the harmonic and melodic approach to composition scarcely changed from his non-Jewish works. Personally, I found the 2 Pièces Hébraïques rather dull music, static in both its harmonic movement and lack of any forward momentum. The Piano Moods follow much the same pattern, at least until you reach No. 4, “Allegro meccanico,” which is propelled by a strong, fast ostinato rhythm.

Using a similar approach to harmony and rhythm, the Prélude et Toccata fools the listener by disguising the form; this is a very imaginative piece. So too are the Caprices from 1941, but unfortunately Tansman never completed No. 6 so it couldn’t be included in this recital. No. 4, marked “Molto vivace,” is especially interesting in its use of fast sprinkles of eighth notes in the piano’s upper register.

The music for Visit to Israel is based even more clearly on Hebraic themes and modes, and here Tansman really let his imagination play with the music, producing engaging, unusual pieces. The suite ends with a very peppy “Hora.” The recital ends with the slow, enigmatic Étude from 1967.

Taken as individual pieces (or small groups as put together by Tansman), the music on this disc can be very interesting in recital, surrounded by other music. I think the decision to group them all together in this way, however, was not conducive to a full appreciation of most of them as the moods of all of them tended (with some exceptions) to sound alike and run together in the listener’s mind. Otherwise, a fine release.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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