Polish by birth (in Łódź, then part of Tsarist Russia), and French by citizenship, composer and pianist Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986, he died in Paris) brought canny craftsmanship to his prolific output, as the scores on this release prove.
The Oboe Suite, recorded for the first time, opens raptly, very expressively, with dark tinges (twilight), and the successive movement is open-air and dancing (with percussion part of the colour palette). What follows are respectively mysterious and fragile, and with rhythmic impulse. Fleetingly, Darius Milhaud and Lennox Berkeley look in.
This is neoclassical music that can still paint pictures/tell stories, structured compactly, not a note wasted. The opening of the Clarinet Concerto manages an intriguing combination of Ives and Honegger (composers mentioned are merely pointers to Tansman’s style, Hindemith another), hazy outlines from which a bewitching (improvisatory) clarinet line emerges before a stealthy Allegro con brio takes hold and is contrasted with the return of enigmas and further alternations, the song-like repose winning through and carrying into the secretive slow movement, whereas the sinewy-starting Finale is swinging by the end, if not for long enough. Too concise, but only this once.
The Concertino is of seven (or six) vignettes (totalling twenty minutes), bright and airy to open, really quite English in effect, and variegated across the whole, whether interior in illustration (sad), technically resourceful (canonic and fugal) or perkily humorous (Scherzo). It is strings alone for the pivoting ‘Elégie’ (Bartók ‘night music’), curiously played again two movements later, as intended (a different take though as a couple of separate ‘noises-off’ demonstrate) and the two wind instruments are often heard as twins, if distinguished by their unmistakeable timbres. The Adagio for Strings is like a sound-cloud, vaporous, distant and fascinating (conjuring Wordsworth’s “Lonely as a...”), intensifying at its mid-point.
Not only is this appealing music but there is an engaging sleight of hand evident that teases the ear and is resolved in the most satisfying way. Nothing but praise for the soloists, conductor and the Malta Philharmonic, and the recording and presentation are equally first-class.