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Briefly Noted: Tailleferre's Piano Music

available at Amazon
Germaine Tailleferre, Complete Piano Music, Vol. 1, Nicolas Horvath

(released on April 1, 2022)
Grand Piano GP891 | 83'21"
Germaine Tailleferre was the only woman included in the group of French composers styled as Les Six. Even the writer Jean Cocteau, whose leadership brought the group to fame, pushed her into the background, at one point deriding her as "une Marie Laurencin pour l'oreille." (Laurencin, in fact, painted a portrait of Cocteau in the 1920s.) That brief period of association was just the first phase of Tailleferre's long compositional career, that lasted into her 90s, almost until her death in 1983. She lived in the United States twice, in the 1920s, with her first husband, and again in Philadelphia during World War II.

Her music is not well known here, although hopefully that will change as ensembles seek to include more music composed by women: for example, last spring, Chiarina Chamber Players performed her Harp Sonata and her Piano Trio. Pianist Nicolas Horvath, known for his marathon complete performances and recordings of many modern composers such as Satie, Stockhausen, and Glass, is undertaking a complete recording of her piano music. These three volumes will bring together all of the composer's pieces for piano, many recorded for the first time, thanks to permission granted by the composer's granddaughter and sole heir.

Most of the pieces in this first volume are short character pieces, many collected into longer suites. Like Nadia Boulanger she was interested in the monuments of French music history. She collected transcriptions of bits of music by Lully and other French and Italian composers in her Petites ouvertures d'airs anciens, while the influence of baroque style runs through her collection Fleurs de France and the Suite dans le style Louis XV. She was, among other things, talented at mimicry, with many of these brief pieces in imitation of various types of music both real and fanciful (Wagner, Debussy, Ravel, Sicilienne, Inca, Amazon).

The only track longer than a few minutes is the piano version of her unusual score for Sous le rampart d'Athènes, music dominated by trilling figures that is probably much more interesting in its orchestral incarnation. Tailleferre met the writer Paul Claudel, the younger brother of the sculptor Camille Claudel, on a ship returning to Europe after her first American stay. He commissioned her to write incidental music for this "philosophical dialogue" written to commemorate the centenary of the scholar Marcellin Berthelot's birth. Horvath's interpretations are sensitive and profound, although at times there are some technical shortcomings, as in repeated-note sections, which can be a little hesitant and clotted.

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