“French Piano Concertos”
This gorgeous set is dedicated to piano concertante works from the pens of French composers – infinitely varied compositions that nevertheless each bear the unmistakable flavor of their native idiom. The French piano concerto was a late arrival on the European stage, and even then many French composers would opt to combine piano and orchestra outside the confines of strict concerto form. This set hones in on the genre’s heyday along with two precursors: a two-movement Concerto in F (1792) by the ‘French Mozart’ Boieldieu and the early Concerti da camera Op.10 (1832–38) by the maverick genius Alkan. The set begins with the five piano concertos that traverse Saint-Saëns’s career, along with concertante pieces he composed in the 1880s during a 20-year hiatus between his Fourth (1875) and Fifth (1896). The ’80s were fertile for Saint-Saëns’s contemporary Franck, as well, who returned to the piano after decades focusing on the organ and on choral music to create such piano concertante masterworks as Les Djinns and the Variations symphoniques. The latter work was an influence on Claude Debussy’s Fantaisie, in terms of the roles assigned to the orchestra and solo piano and the work’s structure, and like Franck before him, Debussy would disown this youthful work to move in a new direction – surprising given the warm reception enjoyed today by the early works of both composers. The influence of Saint-Saëns and Franck would extend to several of Debussy’s contemporaries, as well. Jules Massenet’s Concerto in E flat, begun in his early twenties, but only finished at the turn of the century after his many successful operas, arrived too late for the shifting tastes of the time, which had turned their backs on romantic virtuosity in favor of the impressionistic and neo-classical. Three of the group ‘Les Six’ figure on this set: Francis Poulenc and the charm and wit of his Concertos for one and for two Pianos, Germaine Tailleferre and the impressionistic orientalism of her Ballade, and the prolific Darius Milhaud who contributes no less than five piano concertos and four other concertante pieces. Albert Roussel and Reynaldo Hahn, though older than the members of ‘Les Six’, would only come to write piano concertos in their 50s, well into the inter-war period. Hahn’s concerto is featured here in a very special remastered historic recording from 1937, with the composer at the podium and the renowned Brazilian pianist Magda Tagliaferro as soloist.