LOUSSIER: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; PADEREWSKI: Violin Sonata (Iwicki, Hauer) Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orch./ Kostecki – Naxos

LOUSSIER: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; PADEREWSKI: Violin Sonata (Iwicki, Hauer)  Polish Philharmonic Chamber Orch./ Kostecki – Naxos 8.573200,  65:14 (7/8/14) ****:

Here’s something quite unique. 2 classical compositions from the famed jazz pianist and composer Jacques Loussier. Loussier was very popular with his series of concerts and recordings in the 1970s when his trio played jazz versions of Bach. You could hardly go to a record store (remember those?) and not see his albums on display or hear them being played. The Trio broke up in 1978, and Loussier did several film scores and worked with Pink Floyd, Yes and others. The trio re-formed again in the 80s, and Loussier expanded his jazz treatments to composers like Debussy, Satie and others.

That brings us to this interesting album, containing two compositions that include the Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Percussion and the Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Tabla. The Violin Concerto was written in 1987-88. Not surprisingly it’s a jazz/classical fusion piece, but to my ear more classical than jazz until the last movement where the piece takes off. It’s an interesting and an attention-getting work. The Concerto No. 2 is also a pleasant revelation. Written on commission in 2006, it’s a wild ride with a lot of improvisation. The musicians give both concertos their all, and neither of these compositions are easy to play. I wasn’t sure what to expect from these pieces, even though I was familiar with Loussier’s earlier work. I have to say I like what I hear in both Concertos. They are very fresh, accessible, and yet musically focused. The recording of these works sounds great on CD. The orchestra is well captured in a 3D-like presentation, with a solid image side to side and front to back depth is very obvious. The soloists don’t get lost in the denser sections, and the varied percussion instruments have real impact.

I can’t imagine this sounding better than what is offered. The recording also features Paderewski’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. It’s an odd match for the more contemporary Loussier, as the Sonata was written in 1882. Considered among the finest of Paderewski’s early works, it’s well played by the Polish Chamber Orchestra. This is also a very fine recording, but the work doesn’t quite hold the challenge of playing and recording the Loussier. The link, I suspect, is that both men started as pianists and turned to composing. This is a fine CD. I’m not sold on the odd pairing of Loussier and Paderewski, but It’s all a fine listen.

—Mel Martin

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