André Mathieu’s Piano Concerto No.3 & George Gershwin’s An American in Paris – Alain Lefèvre/Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta [Analekta]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The connection between these composers is that both were also concert-standard pianists and they died young. André Mathieu (1929-68) was born in Montreal and precociously gifted, earning the nickname the “Mozart of Canada”. His Piano Concerto No.3 (1943), as recorded here for the first time, has had to be reconstructed – by Alain Lefèvre, Jacques Marchand and George Nicholson – for in 1946 the work was adapted, as Concerto de Quebec, for use in the film Whispering City.
The first of the three movements opens in arresting style, with roulades of romanticism for the pianist, the writing heroic, freewheeling and glittering, Lefèvre the equal of it. If the invention is derivative (Liszt, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky … the Golden Age of Hollywood) it is also inviting – tuneful, colourful, passionate. This Allegro moderato certainly ticks all the ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ boxes and does so with ardour and pulsation, big gestures, brassy tuttis and sweeping strings, and not forgetting a barnstorming cadenza with some (welcome) gentler asides. The central Andante – the longest movement by several minutes (sixteen of them, out of thirty-seven) – is very expressive, tenderly affecting in its gently autumnal way, if with the occasional shadow and agitation, whereas the Finale struts proudly and with a happy-go-lucky main idea if with lyrical (a trumpet tune) and dramatic (declamatory heavy brass) diversions. It’s not a masterpiece, but the many attractions created by a very talented teenager were well-worth the act of resurrection by those concerned, and this world-premiere account of it is as brilliant and sensitive as it is dedicated.
The sound-quality is not so hot, mind, for the piano is a little disembodied for all its closeness and the orchestra somewhat distant, and rather mushy below forte. It’s a live performance, as is An American in Paris, and with the piano out of the way (as it were) the Buffalo Philharmonic now comes more into its own, displaying a vibrant profile for one of George Gershwin’s greatest achievements, not least in characterful cameos from trumpet, tuba, flute and violin, among others, and the saxophonists are enjoyably boastful. JoAnn Falletta leads a superb performance, full of zip, poise, affection and well-placed detail (subtle touches, such as trombone glissandos) – and in-tune car-horns – bustling, touchingly reflective and jazzy as required and it goes on my ‘library choice’ list for this imperishable score.