Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor
Presented on this amply filled disc, the programme spans 33 years, the earliest work being Concerto No. 1, regarded as the first significant French piano concerto and written by a 23-year old composer. Ten years later, in 1868, Saint-Saëns composed the Concerto in G minor, a work which at first met with consternation although Liszt – who was present at the first performance – thoroughly approved of it. The work, which begins with the soloist playing what resembles the improvisations of an organist, soon became popular however, and remains one of Saint-Saëns’ best-known works. The shorter pieces which make up the rest of the programme were written between 1884 and 1891, and could be said to erveal different aspects of the composer: Wedding Cake was written as a wedding present to a close friend, in Rhapsodie d’Auvergne Saint-Saeëns explored French folk music, while Africa is a piece of pure Orientalism, reflecting his lasting affection for North Africa.
There is much to look forward to, then, when Kantorow releases an all-Brahms album with a playing time of no less than 85 minutes. He opens with music by a composer of a similar age as himself: Brahms wrote the Four Ballades in 1854 while only 21 years old, taking up a fashionable genre introduced by Chopin as late as 1840. The set is followed by the even earlier Sonata No. 3 in E minor which forms the centre of the programme. The sonata is of almost symphonic dimensions and it was indeed, along with its predecessors, famously described as a disguised symphony by no one less than Robert Schumann. To bring this stormy, impassioned album to a close, Kantorow has chosen a later, and contrasting work: With a lifelong admiration for Bach, Brahms in 1879 made a piano arrangement, for the left hand alone, of the iconic Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for solo violin – a composition that Brahms himself described as ‘a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful impressions’.
Opening with an example of the mature Brahms, his First Rhapsody from 1879, Kantorow takes us back to the very beginning of the composer's career, with the youthfully impassioned Piano Sonata No. 2. Brahms was 21 when he wrote the sonata – only two years younger than Bartók in 1904, the year his Rhapsody was composed. At the time, Bartók was just beginning to discover the folk music which would become such an important source of inspiration. Being a Hungarian and a budding pianist, he was, however, very familiar with the music of Liszt, and will have known the composer's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 with its final prestissimo rushing the disc to an impetuous close.
Australian Chamber Orchestra
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
José Serebrier, conductor
Richard Tognetti, conductor
An esteemed conductor who has worked with most of the major orchestras and made more than 300 recordings, José Serebrier is also a prolific composer. He became established at an early age with Leopold Stokowski giving the world première of his Symphony No. 1, when he was only 17 years old. He studied composition with Martinů and Copland, while also learning conducting from Doráti, Monteux and Stokowski, who named the 22-year old Serebrier his associate conductor. This dual career has flourished ever since, as demonstrated by this disc on which Serebrier conducts the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in some of his most recent works. These include the Symphonic BACH Variations for piano and orchestra in which Alexandre Kantorow, winner of the 2019 Tchaikovsky competition, shines in the solo part. Newly recorded material is combined with the previously released Flute Concerto – the only work on the disc not conducted by Serebrier himself – and two tango-inspired shorter pieces. For Serebrier, these and the recent Last Tango before Sunrise form a kind of return to his youth in Uruguay, where he was born.
Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor
Composer, piano virtuoso, conductor, teacher – Camille Saint-Saëns was all of these things, but also a keen archaeologist, astronomer, botanist, historian, illustrator, poet, playwright… A seasoned traveller, he was the most famous French musician in his own lifetime, acclaimed in North and South America, the Middle East and across Europe. It is ironic, then, that his extensive and varied output isn’t better known today – except for a few works of which the most famous, Carnival of the Animals, is one Saint-Saëns himself had little affection for. Now often regarded as old-fashioned or even reactionary, we tend to forget that Saint-Saëns during his lifetime was sometimes heckled for the boldness of his works. Furthermore, he defended the music of the revolutionaries Wagner and Liszt, earned the admiration of figures as Berlioz, Debussy and Ravel and – in 1908 – composed one of the first original scores for a film! Jean-Jacques Kantorow and the Tapiola Sinfonietta have championed the music of Saint-Saëns on a series of acclaimed discs, and are now joined by the young Alexandre Kantorow – son of the conductor – for a survey of his works for piano and orchestra. In 1858, Saint-Saëns became the first major French composer to write a piano concerto, but on this first disc of two the Kantorows present the three last concertos. Composed over a period of almost 30 years (1868 – 1896), these are highly individual works: Piano Concerto No. 3 is a bold attempt to reconcile Classical form with a Lisztian pianistic brio, No. 4 employs an unusual formal scheme in which themes are reused in a cyclic manner and, finally, the ‘Egyptian’ (No. 5), named after the second movement, which in the composer’s own words describes ‘a sort of Eastern journey that goes all the way to the Far East’.
Alexandre Kantorow released his first disc for BIS in 2016, performing Liszt’s piano concertos to critical acclaim: ‘I’m here to tell you that Alexandre Kantorow is Liszt reincarnated’ wrote one impressed reviewer, in Fanfare Magazine. Not yet 20 years old, the French pianist and son of violinist and conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow now explores his Russian roots, in a recital that opens with Rachmaninov’s weighty First Piano Sonata, inspired by Goethe’s play Faust, and its three main characters, the scholar Faust, his beloved Gretchen and Mephistopheles, the Devil’s emissary.
The nostalgic intimacy of Méditation and Passé lointain, from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 72 collection, offers respite from the drama, but tension returns with Guido Agosti’s virtuosic piano arrangement of three extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird. Kantorow closes his Russian recital with Mily Balakirev’s ‘oriental fantasy’ Islamey, one of the iconic works of the piano literature. Fiendishly difficult, the piece famously inspired Ravel to write something that would be even harder to play (his Gaspard de la nuit). A committed Russian nationalist, Balakirev himself found the inspiration for Islamey during a journey to the Caucasus when he was introduced to the local music tradition.
Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor
As a teenager, Franz Liszt created at least two virtuosic concertos for piano and orchestra, scores which now are lost. The three works gathered here first saw the light of day only a few years later, however, during the 1830's when Liszt’s career as a young, travelling virtuoso was at its height. The two numbered concertos, which Liszt revised extensively before letting them be published some 25 years after their conception, frame the single-movement Malédiction for piano and strings which Liszt composed in 1833 and revised in 1840, but which was never published in his lifetime. Stepping into Liszt's shoes for the present recording is Alexandre Kantorow, another very young man. Born in 1997, Alexandre is here supported by his father Jean-Jacques Kantorow conducting the Tapiola Sinfonietta, a team with a number of highly acclaimed recordings to their credit. The recording is Alexandre’s first for BIS, as well as being his début concerto disc, and represents a remarkable achievement by a hugely promising talent, as well as being a vibrant and exciting account of three impassioned scores.
Jean-Jacques and Alexandre Kantorow invite us to go back to the origins of the sonata for violin and piano in France, with two works - never recorded before - by Camille Chevillard and André Gedalge, contemporaries of Gabriel Fauré, whose first sonata completes this album.