Le Boeuf sur le Toit: Swinging Paris (CD review)

Alexandre Tharaud, piano, and friends. Virgin Classics 50999 602552 2 8.

French pianist Alexandre Tharaud tells us that he has had an interest since childhood in the pop and jazz music of the 1920’s, especially the music played in the famous Parisian nightspot Le Boeuf sur le Toit. I also suspect that the popularity of Woody Allen’s 2011 motion picture Midnight in Paris, in which his main character goes back in time to the Paris of the Twenties, may have also influenced Tharaud’s decision to record the two-dozen or more tunes he does on the present CD. Whatever the genesis of the album may be, it’s a delight from start to finish, with Tharaud supported on several of the tracks by David Chevallier, banjo, and Florent Jodelet, percussions. What’s more, pianist Frank Braley, and singers Madeleine Peyroux, Juliette, Natalie Dessay, Behabar, Guillaume Gallienne, and Jean Delescluse join Tharaud on a select few songs. It’s hard not to like this music.

As Tharaud explains it, the cabaret-bar Le Boeuf Sur le Toit was a meeting place not only for Parisian musicians and composers of the 1920’s but for international musicians as well. As Tharaud explains it, “Every evening you would come across composers like Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie and the members of Les Six...even Stravinsky! There were French popular singers like Maurice Chevalier, Yvonne Georges, Kiki de Montparnasse and then, among the throng, lots of artists, such as Man Ray, Diaghilev, Coco Chanel, Georges Simenon. Though they came from different worlds, everybody on the Paris scene came to Le Boeuf Sur le Toit for jazz and new music amidst the excitement of the Roaring Twenties.”

The program opens with Tharaud playing a solo arrangement of Chopinata, a jazzy collage of Chopin tunes put together by one of Tharaud’s piano heroes of the Twenties, Clement Doucet. Tharaud follows that with a number of piano arrangements by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Nacio Herb Brown, Al Lewis, W.C. Handy, and the like.

But it’s not all purely jazz and pop. Tharaud intersperses pieces by classical composers affected by jazz: Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, the aforementioned Chopin, and a really enterprising fox trot by Doucet based on themes by Franz Liszt.

Tharaud plays with verve and conviction, clearly reveling in a love for the music and finding the soul in it. He never tries to embellish it or hype it; he simply feels it, gently and delicately, and lets it flow lovingly from his piano. Moreover, his occasional guests make their own unique, wholly appropriate contributions, adding to the authentic feel of the music and songs.

A penultimate arrangement of Handy’s St. Louis Blues for harpsichord is fascinating, the entire show offering up high good fun.

Virgin Classics recorded the music in early 2012 at three locations: Ircam, Cite de la Musique, and Salle Colonne, all in Paris, France. The sound is warm and inviting, with a smooth vibrancy and a laudable clarity. One can almost picture the performers in a bustling cabaret, the imaging is that precise. There is also a strong dynamic impact and a rich acoustic resonance to help produce an overall lifelike response.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa