Mathieu: Concerto No. 3 in C minor (CD review)

Also, Gershwin: An American in Paris. Alain Lefevre, piano; Joann Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Analekta AN2 9299.

Let's start with a little info about Andre Mathieu, a classical composer and pianist who isn't exactly a household name. First, he was born in Quebec, Canada in 1929 and died unexpectedly young of alcoholism and emotional problems in 1968. Fortunately for us, he left behind a large legacy of music, although most of it remains unrecorded. A check of Amazon reveals only a handful of Mathieu recordings, many of them by the artist represented on this disc, pianist Alain Lefevre. He and conductor Joann Falletta and her Buffalo Philharmonic do a splendid job with the music.

According to Wikipedia, "Mathieu's style leaned towards the late Romantic school of Rachmaninov, and his music was influenced by Debussy as well. Mathieu wrote many works for piano." Here, we find his Concerto No. 3 in C minor for piano and orchestra, which he wrote in 1943 under the titles "Concerto Romantique" or "Concerto de Qu├ębec."

The concerto, revised and reorchestrated, is highly reminiscent of Rachmaninov from the very beginning. Dark, almost ominous chords open the music, building to a big, rhapsodic flourish, again evocative of Rachmaninov. So, why didn't Mathieu become anywhere near as popular as his Russian counterpart? I've always thought the popularity of any piece of music with the general public is directly equivalent to how melodious it is and how much exposure it gets. With Mathieu, there is the business of its being somewhat derivative, not as soaringly tuneful, and not as well promoted. Which takes nothing away from Mathieu.

Alain Lefevre
The opening movement is rather scattershot to my ear. It's all over the place with one melody bumping into the next, something perhaps attributable to Mathieu being only in his mid teens when he wrote it. It's a passionate, tempestuous affair, and pianist Lefevre seems to take delight in its impetuous nature. As expected, Ms. Falletta and her Buffalo players support him superbly.

The highlight of the concerto is the second-movement Andante, serene and flowing, if not quite reaching the emotional heights of a Rachmaninov. Still, it's a lovely contribution to the piece, seamlessly interwoven with the faster movements and unaffected in its beauty. In the closing movement, Lefevre and Falletta deliver a jaunty presentation, filled with youthful zeal and playfulness.

Accompanying the Mathieu is a far more-familiar work, George Gershwin's An American in Paris, the jazz-inspired piece the composer wrote in 1928 after spending some time in Paris. In the work's original program notes, Gershwin says "My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere." When the music moves into blues, Gershwin tells us "our American friend...has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness." However, "nostalgia is not a fatal disease" and the American visitor "once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life" and by the end "the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant."

Here, Ms. Falletta and her orchestra take it alone, and they make the most of Gershwin's colorful tone painting. She lends the music a properly joyful, frolicsome atmosphere, combined with an equally appropriate dose of blues when necessary. It's lyrical, jazzy, bluesy, turbulent, and glittering by turns.

Dr. Bernd Gottinger made the recordings live at the Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY in February 2017. The sound he obtained is reasonably natural: warm, modestly reverberant, slightly soft, dark, and distant. The piano appears nicely integrated with the orchestra, too; in fact, it remains an almost neutral presence--clear, rich, and resonant, but never completely dominant as it might be if recorded closer. Again, the sound is fairly lifelike, if not as tonally transparent as the best audiophile recordings, accounting perhaps for its being recorded live. I wish they had deleted the applause at the end of the pieces, though.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa