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Briefly Noted: Le Bœuf sur le Toit

available at Amazon
Le Bœuf sur le Toit: Swinging Paris, A. Tharaud (et al.)

(released on October 22, 2012)
Virgin 5099960255228 | 67'
We mentioned Alexander Tharaud’s new CD, Le Bœuf sur le Toit: Swinging Paris, when he was giving a dramatic series of concerts across France featuring its music. Incredibly, this was shortly before he came to Washington on a brief recital tour: we hope that the French Embassy will be able to feature this cabaret program here at some point in the future. I say Tharaud’s new CD, but as with his Satie disc a couple of years ago, this is really a collaborative effort. Working with a score of other musicians, the French pianist’s goal was to recreate the atmosphere of the most famous French cabaret of the années folles, the period we call the Roaring 20s in English. At 28, rue Boissy d’Anglas, near the Church of La Madeleine, entrepreneur Louis Moysès gave it the name of Darius Milhaud and Jean Cocteau’s pantomime-ballet in 1921, and until it was closed by the authorities in 1927 the club pulsed with the heartbeat of creative Paris.

This reconstruction is speculative, given that no record of any precise program at the Bœuf survives, but an authoritative program note by Martin Pénet lays out the history of the club, the musicians who performed there, and what sort of music they left behind. The selection of music is centered on the composer and arranger Jean Wiéner, the cabaret’s pianist and de facto music director, as well as his partnership, in a two-piano duo act, with Belgian pianist Clément Doucet. Both musicians specialized in arrangements that bridged the gap between popular music of the time, the American jazz that took Paris by storm, and the European classical tradition. Frank Braley joins Tharaud for four of the duo's arrangements, and the solo arrangements played by Tharaud include versions of Gershwin and other jazz tunes (including a delicious version of Cole Porter's Let's Do It with Madeleine Peyroux, the American singer based in Paris), French-inflected original jazz pieces by Wiéner (with Natalie Dessay imitating bluesy, wah-wah trumpet in one selection), and a truly odd arrangement of W. C. Handy's Saint Louis Blues for harpsichord. As Wiéner did for his cabaret performances, Tharaud mixes in some jazz-inflected classical pieces by Milhaud and Ravel, as well as some of Wiéner and Doucet's jazzy renditions of Chopin and Wagner. The result is suave, pleasurable listening from end to end -- a natural Christmas gift.

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