June 2006

Tansman - Symphonies 4, 5, 6 "In Memoriam"
Melbourne Chorale, Melbourne Symphony; Oleg Caetani, conductor
Chandos CHSA 5041
Released: 2006
Format: Hyrbrid Multichannel SACD

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Aleksander Tansman was born in Poland in 1897, and after music study in his native country, he moved to Paris in 1919, where he so embraced French culture that he changed his name to Alexandre Tansman. He started friendships with Stravinsky, Milhaud, and Schoenberg, and in 1938 was granted French citizenship. To escape the German Reich, he moved to the United States in 1941, along with many of his associates. In America, he enjoyed a very successful career. Eminent conductors, such as Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, and Eugene Ormandy, performed his symphonies, but they are seldom heard today. Chandos has labeled this hybrid SACD as "Vol.1" in a series, and subtitled it "The War Years," since the works on it were composed from 1936-1944.

Tansman’s music is largely neoclassic and very listenable. His use of chromaticism might remind some of Scriabin, but he manages to incorporate large, lyrical melodies that seem more Gaelic in nature. Tansman admired Ravel’s orchestration, and it shows in his scoring, which is delicate and colorful. The Sixth Symphony is a real demonstration piece in that respect. The first movement is for winds, percussion, and piano, the second for strings, the third for the full orchestra, and the fourth for full orchestra with added chorus singing honors to French soldiers fallen in the war.

Caetani is a most sympathetic conductor for this music, and the Australian orchestra is first-rate. The recorded sound is warm and transparent, far better than the company’s SACD efforts from the UK. The multichannel tracks have more presence than the stereo ones, and though they give a twelfth-row perspective, they are very alive and appealing.