MATHIEU: Piano Concerto; GERSHWIN: An American in Paris – Alain Lefevre, piano/ Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ Joann Falletta – Analekta

MATHIEU: Piano Concerto No. 3 in c minor, Op. 25; GERSHWIN: An American in Paris – Alain Lefevre, piano/ Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ Joann Falletta – Analekta AN 2 9299, 54:55 (9/8/17) [Distr. by E1] ****

An adolescent Canadian composer’s precocious piano concerto finds vivid realization after painstaking reconstruction.

Composer Andre Mathieu, “the Canadian Mozart,” performed at Town Hall in New York City on 3 February 1940, to begin rebuilding a career his father Rodolphe had crafted for the boy prodigy in Paris, so cruelly curtailed by the Nazi invasion of France. Mathieu (1929-1968) won the recognition of impraesario Arthur Judson, manager of the New York Philharmonic. Andre completed his Concerto No. 3 on 20 June 1943, and the second movement Andante had a private performance for Andre Kostelanetz, who then had an arrangement broadcast over CBS on 31 October 1943.  The Concerto proper remained suppressed until 1946/47, when it appeared, in part, in a movie – Whispering City – as arranged by Giuseppe Agostini. In 1947 Mathieu was approached by Radio-Canada to record this version. In new arrangements—by Marc Belanger and Alain Lefevre—the piece found acolytes—in its guise as Concerto de Quebec—in Philippe Entremont and Lefevre.  In 2008, Georges Nicholson and Jacques Marchand consulted the Mathieu archives in Ottawa, only to discover the composer’s original autograph copy of a version for two pianos. Marchand restored the adolescent composer’s original intentions, adding a first movement cadenza in order to “compensate for a lack of development.”

The performance (from February 2017) with Lefevre and Falletta means to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, and especially Buffalo’s close relationship with its northern neighbor. Mathieu conceived the work as a composition for two pianos, with virtually no knowledge of orchestration, so the Marchand edition provides an educated and sympathetic guess as to how the music ought to sound. Mathieu’s fourteen-year-old gift lay in his natural sense of melody, and he will simply tie one melody after another in lieu of any structural development, in the manner of lyrical, light rhapsody.  When the melodies soar or make the “big splash,” they convey a Hollywood sense of drama, an amalgam of Rachmaninov, Gershwin, and Alfred Newman.  The last movement Allegro con brio has a jazzy, thrusting energy; and with the Lefevre esprit, the music sometimes has a luster and tricky finesse we associate with Saint-Saens. At the end of the performance, we suddenly realize the music comes from a live collaboration, with an audience erupting with delight at a revived charmer of a classical concerto.

The bustling taxis and hustling Parisian crowds from Gershwin’s 1928 symphonic poem An American in Paris, have few surprises, but Falleta’s brass and battery sections liven up a familiar score. Dennis Kim provides a piquant solo accompanied by horns and flutes, creating an ambling, haze-filled luster that saunters along the “Boul Miche.”  The blues element has its liquid expression, a touch of New York nostalgia superimposed on the Paris byways. Trumpet, trombones, and exuberant strings bear witness to a deep-seated affection for this elegant picture postcard by one of our most eloquent melodists.

—Gary Lemco

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