Le Piano Français - Virtuoso Piano Concertos by Rivier, Casadesus, Wiener, Casterede


Guild Records has been proving their pudding of late by releasing exceptionally fine yet little known repertoire in quintessential performances. They do so again with 'Le Piano Français'. Pianist Timon Altwegg with conductor Gilles Colliard and the Chamber Orchestra of Toulouse present four works by 20th century French composers, all of which, in all likelihood, are not yet in your collection.

During the 19th century, French composers held to certain stylistic preferences that distinguished their music from their German contemporaries. Although not easy to define concisely, the differences in part grew from the French predilection for opera and ballet over concert music - symphonies and concertos for example, coming from Germany. One genre that gained popularity in France during the last couple of decades of the 19th century, and remained popular well into the 20th, was works of a concertante style. In many respects, these pieces were concertos, but free of the structural 'rules' that defined the genre outside France. Composers who carried this tradition through the beginning of the 20th century included Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc.

The program of this CD shows the concertante form alive and well a generation after the aforementioned composers with four diverse works for piano and string orchestra. The composers are Jean Rivier (1896-1987), Robert Casadesus (1899-1972), Jean Wiener (1896-1982), and - the youngest of the group born in 1926 - Jacques Castérède. The first two pieces, Concerto Brève by Jean Rivier and Capriccio Op. 49 by renowned concert pianist Robert Casadesus, share similar sound spheres, which in turn overlap with those of Prokofiev and Ravel. In the outer movements, melodic material can be sparse and angular, and rhythmic patterns disjointed, at times polymetric. Both works have rather haunting slow movements; the Rivier wades forward like a dirge, and the Casadesus drifts along in a mysterious timelessness. This last mentioned Casadesus movement is the first of two samples you'll find available in the right sidebar of this page.

Jean Wiener's Piano Concerto No. 1 "Franco Americain" is the lightest and most broadly appealing work of the four. The opening movement is bright and sunny, the second, lush and lyrical with a jazzy, Gershwinesque touch. The finale returns to the high-spirits of the opening movement where an unsophisticated, almost carnival atmosphere can be felt. The Castérède Concerto for piano and string orchestra, colored by overtones of Messiaen, Stravinsky and Bartók, is the darkest of the four works and, in the end, is probably my favorite. The Scherzo from this piece is the second sample in the video on the right.

All four works are tonal, melodic, and clearly written to be enjoyed, which I found easy to do.