August 2007

Milhaud - Complete Piano Concertos (Le Carnaval d’Aix; Ballade; 5 Etudes; Fantaisie pastorale; Concertos Nos. 1-5)
Michael Korstick, piano; SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern, Alun Francis cond.
CPO 777 162-2
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

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

Alun Francis and CPO are definitely serious about Milhaud. Having recorded all 12 of the French composer’s symphonies in Basel (on five CDs), the British conductor now has wrapped up the nine concerted works for piano in Kaiserlautern, with a first-rate soloist who hails from Cologne. Several of these works were composed for Milhaud to perform himself on his tours of the United States in the 1920s and during his subsequent residency at Mills College in California.

The gem among them is Le Carnaval d’Aix; a tribute to his hometown which he adapted in 1926 from his earlier score for a ballet called Salade. It is not a concerto in form, but rather a concert suite in 12 brief sections based on characters of the commedia dell’ arte but also containing a polka and a Souvenir de Rio embracing a tango and a maxixe. This is one of Milhaud’s most attractive pieces in any form, and its failure to find a place in the repertory remains a mystery. With the disappearance of the Vox recording with Carl Seeman as soloist and Milhaud conducting, this new one is especially welcome, and it is actually superior both musically and technically.

It must be acknowledged that the other eight works offer less in both substance and charm, but in their truly involved performances Michael Korstick and Alun Francis seem to delight in revealing the engaging qualities they do have on a more modest level. I would imagine that anyone who hears their brilliant realization of Le Carnaval d’Aix is more than likely to find it worth the price of the two-disc set all by itself. Both the sound and the documentation show CPO at its best.