The Giraud Ensemble Plays Gulda, Prokofiev and Poulenc

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GULDA: Concerto for Myself.1,3 PROKOFIEV: Symphony No. 1. POULENC: Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra1,2 / 1Mischa Cheung, 2Yulia Miloslavskaya, pno; 3Janic Sarott, dm; 3Stanislaw Sandronov, el-bs; Giraud Ensemble Chamber Orch.; Sergey Simakov, cond / Solo Musica SM 325

The is the second CD by the Giraud Ensemble Chamber Orchestra, a fairly new group of mostly young musicians formed in 2015. I’m especially heartened by their commitment to “a diverse repertoire ranging from Baroque to Modern, always placing great importance on making less known musical works heard.” Who knows? Maybe someday they’ll get around to Weinberg!

Here, pride of place goes to a really original and inventive piece by the late Friedrich Gulda, Concerto for Myself. As usual, the eccentric classical and jazz pianist had his tongue planted firmly in cheek when he titled it, probably thinking no one else would perform it, but here it is, and an interesting work it is, too, beginning with an almost Baroque-sounding intro for the piano and orchestra which rises to a grand tutti for the trumpets before the solo pianist starts playing an almost Vince Guaraldi-like solo that moves into a piano trio with bass and drums, which is then woven back into the orchestral ensemble, now playing more like Beethoven. Gulda was a lifelong lover of three composers in particular, J.S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, thus he wanted to put a little of each of them into “his” concerto. Even the individual movements have quirky titles: I. The New is View (…then Old is New), II. Lament for U (Aria con variazioni), III. Of Me (free cadenza), and IV. For U and U; And All of You, All of Me; For All of You. Eclectic was certainly Gulda’s middle name! The Giraud Ensemble does a fine job on it, playing with vigor and a good sense of style. Towards the end of the first movement, the piano soloists plays a really jazzy cadenza (written or improvised? Gulda, a good improviser, didn’t always write such things down) which pianist Mischa Cheung does a very good job on. The movement ends with another classical brass fanfare.

The second movement opens with a piano lick that sounds borrowed from Beethoven, but once the solo oboe enters to play the principal melody we are in the world of 18th century classical once again, but this time the piano part is written more deftly into the fabric of what the orchestra plays, and the string of variations is quite interesting, with a return to a jazz feel at 4:25 into the movement and the jazz piano trio format at 5:45, which later doubles the tempo for some real swinging (and later on, a brief quote from the Paganini caprice that inspired Rachmaninov’s variations). The “cadenza” Of Me features the pianist playing a few notes on the inner strings of the piano before taking off on a solo that straddles the gap between jazz and classical; then we dive into the last movement, which opens with a horn call, moves into a lively 6/8 sort of jig rhythm and then features the piano soloist in a syncopated version of said jig, with the orchestra falling in behind him. The piano trio again mysteriously pops up out of nowhere, this time playing a sort of calypso beat, and having a ball doing so. No one could ever accuse Gulda of having a “straightforward” musical mind…like Nadia Boulanger, his favorite music, all of it, was always playing inside his head. The music keeps shifting and changing meter, tempo and mood throughout the movement, yet somehow the thread of the initial theme is kept going.

The first movement of the Prokofiev “Classical” Symphony was a big of a disappointment for me, with the tempo taken being a shade slower than I like it. (Yes, I know that this is the written tempo, but I’ve always felt it was a shade too stodgy.) Nonetheless, the orchestra plays it with felicity and a light, dancing touch.

Poulenc’s Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra is one of his lesser-played works, and it, too, is given a fine reading by the ensemble. It’s typically lively, fun music, full of Prokofiev-like twists of harmony and Poulenc’s own sparkling wit. The piano duo of Miloslavskaya and Cheung have a ball with it, as does the ensemble. Some of the music in the first movement features rattling percussion à la George Antheil, which eventually quiets down around 2:45 for some lyrical passages. After a lyrical respite in the second movement, parts of the third and last movement are no less eccentric.

Except for the Prokofiev Symphony, a work that has numerous recordings out there, this is a valuable CD for the Gulda and Poulenc works, done up pink and sure to delight the open-minded listener.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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