Rhapsodies

COMPOSERS: A Mathieu,Gershwin,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Analekta
WORKS: Rhapsody in Blue, Rhapsodie Romantique, Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini.
PERFORMER: Alain Lefèvre (piano); Montreal SO/Matthias Bamert

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Born in Montreal in 1929, André Mathieu was an infant composer-pianist prodigy of such staggering dimensions that when Rachmaninov first heard the 13-year-old play he considered him to have a talent superior even to his own.

Tragically few others took much notice and Mathieu died a destitute alcoholic aged just 39. Much of his music remains in manuscript form and the live performance presented here is unbelievably the Rhapsodie’s world premiere.

Imagine Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and Ravel’s Left-Hand Concerto combining with Rachmaninov in C minor Concerto mode, and you’ll know roughly what to expect from the Rhapsodie romantique.

There’s more than a hint of early Scriabin along the way, in addition to passing references to Prokofiev’s Third Concerto and even a Schumannesque episode of dotted march rhythms, yet the result is a glorious piece that all die-hard Romantics should definitely hear.

Lefèvre generates the greatest passion and excitement and the Montrealers give their all under the baton of a clearly inspired Matthias Bamert. You’d hardly credit you were listening to the same musicians in the Paganini Rhapsody.

Although also recorded live, this turns out not only to be one of the slowest accounts ever recorded, but also one that despite all the evident care lavished upon it simply refuses to catch fire.

The Gershwin is similarly indulged at relaxed tempos, and although that gives the music a chance to luxuriate and chill seductively, there’s not much here to set the feet tapping. Even so, the Mathieu makes this an essential purchase.

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Julian Haylock