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CD booklet
Mathieu_no.4 ; Rachmaninov_op.43

American Record Guide
May 27, 2019

The news here is Mathieu’s Piano Concerto 4; the truly exceptional performance here is of the Rachmaninoff. The Mathieu first.

French Canadian André Mathieu (1929-68) must have been really strange. The liner notes say he wrote his Concerto 4 in 1947 and toured with it widely and “included it in almost all the recitals he gave from 1947 until he died. But the only manuscript we have of the work is of the beginning of the third movement, an incomplete score of 19 pages in a version for two pianos. As with so many other works of Mathieu, it seems likely the composer never bothered to write out music which he knew he would be the only person to play.” What we hear here is a transcription Gilles Bellemare made from a set of vinyl discs given to him in 2005. They apparently were made at a 1950 concert at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal. The world premiere of that transcription by Alain Lefevre, George Hanson, and the Tucson Symphony was recorded in 2008. Paul Cook’s response to the music (Jan/Feb 2009) was the same as mine: echoes of Rachmaninoff (I add Gershwin as well), rich orchestral textures, and “people-pleasing without regard for what the academics might think” (especially in the 1950s and 60s). Cook doesn’t say much about the quality of the performance other than that it was recorded in concert, and the sound is on the subdued side.

Ten year later, this 2018 recording, made in a church, gives a balanced rounded sound to the orchestra, but the engineering doesn’t draw me into it—I could hear details but had to really concentrate to attend to them. The piano, on the other hand, sounds hooty and disembodied, as if it were recorded separately and dropped into the orchestra. All I could really hear was the piano’s melody; the rest evaporated into the church’s rafters. Once I got into the music, this ceased to bother me, probably because Mathieu’s piano lines are not contrapuntal and interlaced like Brahms’s or Rachmaninoff ’s. Nonetheless, the overall ambience in I is much like some Rachmaninoff— motivic rather than melodic, with the motif evolving in various ways, not like a theme-and-variations but more like many evolutions plus a cadenza more than half way through its 12 minutes. The overall form of I is very unified, definitely not wandering, especially with Sylvestre and Trudel sustaining momentum and drama with fine inflections, orchestral colors, and an easy shifting of meters between two and three beats. In fact, this concerto is a pretty good companion for the Rachmaninoff variations.

Try to figure out the opening meter of II. I couldn’t, yet the movement flows very romantically and lyrically, again with a developed motif rather than a full-blown melody. Here there’s also a second motif with a Middle Eastern tinge. This movement edges more toward Gershwin than Rachmaninoff and proceeds without a break into III, which mixes five and four beats per measure. The last two movements make me think this is a perfect concerto for a pops concert—easy to absorb and sufficiently dramatic to hold one’s interest for 34 minutes. Once I got over the initial problems with the sound, the quality of performance certainly held my interest.

The “biographies” here of Sylvestre and Trudel are mostly laundry lists of all the people they studied with and Canadian places they’ve performed, making them both sound second rate. What a total surprise, then, was this Rachmaninoff. The detail and shading both in the piano and orchestra are superb! The pacing gripped me when fast and enveloped me when slower and romantic, and the overall structural flow from start to finish is nonpareil. In Variation 6 listen to Sylvestre’s touches of rubato, rhythmic uplift, and retard—how he shapes it without distorting it or killing the flow. The piano part in Variation 7 is mostly half-note chords, yet he shapes them into phrases. In Variation 18 he brings out harmonic links I’ve never heard before (this happens often in most variations), and both artists’ pacing underscores both parts of Rachmaninoff ’s direction, Andante and Cantabile. The ensemble between Sylvestre and Trudel is total from start to finish, and they always make clear the rhythmic foundation in every variation, something that usually gets swallowed up in the Rhapsody’s opulence.

I find that my favorite recordings of the Rhapsody shift with my moods, for example, Wild, Horenstein, and the Royal Philharmonic on Chandos, or Sudbin, Shui, and the Singapore Symphony on BIS. Now Sylvestre, Trudel, and the Orchestre Metropolitain belong right up there with the very best.

© 2019 American Record Guide

The WholeNote
February 20, 2019

Jean-Philippe Sylvestre appears as soloist on a new recording with Orchestre Métropolitain under Alain Trudel: André Mathieu - Piano Concerto 4; Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (ATMA ADC2 2768). The Mathieu concerto has a fascinating history that rivals the story behind his Concerto No. 3 (Concerto de Québec) also recently recorded by Sylvestre. The Concerto No. 4 was virtually unknown and deemed lost owing to the composer’s rather relaxed approach to keeping his own scores. While the original score used in a 1950 Montreal performance has never been found, a recording of that concert made on 78 rpm discs found its way into Sylvestre’s hands in 2005. He and composer/conductor Gilles Bellemare have reconstructed it based on the 1950 recorded performance. In its reconstructed form it stands as a large-scale work built along formal lines and expresses Mathieu’s strong modern Romantic language. The purely aural process of transcription from the old recording is hard to imagine but the result has been breathtaking.

Sylvestre also performs the Rachmaninov Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op.43, delivering a performance with the orchestra that is as highly charged as the maniacal violinist himself.

The WholeNote 

La Scena musicale
January 31, 2019

Le concerto posthume de Mathieu doit beaucoup à Gilles Bellemare qui, à partir de sources fragemntaires reconstruit et orchestré ce joyau postromantique en cherchant à traduire fidèlement la pensée du compositeur. Sous la baguette brûlante d’Alain Trudel, l’oeuvre défile comme une locomotive lancée d’un bout à l’autre de la voie, sans superflu ni arrêt en gare. Le pianiste Jean- Philippe Sylvestre y navigue avec une aisance remarquable, incarnant un répertoire qui lui ressemble. Son jeu franc, linéaire et dénué de rubato nous permet une compréhension quasi immédiate des phrases et des structures, et il ajoute par moments une pointe d’ironie ou un grain de folie qui ajoutent du mordant à l’oeuvre.

Le jumelage du concerto de Mathieu avec la Rhapsodie sur un thème de Paganini de Rachmaninov est un choix judicieux qui place l’oeuvre de Mathieu dans une filiation évidente. Malgré une prise de son qui ne rend pas justice à la qualité des interprètes, cet album et son excellent livret révèlent un bijou du répertoire québécois qu’on espère retrouver plus fréquemment dans les programmes.

Benjamin Goron - La Scena musicale 

ICI Musique
November 23, 2018

André Mathieu et Sergei Rachmaninov sont un match parfait en termes d’union stylistique dans un concert ou sur un album! Et c’est assurément le cas de Mathieu/Rachmaninov : Concerto no 4 : Rhapsodie sur un thème de Paganini du pianiste Jean-Philippe Sylvestre accompagné de l’Orchestre métropolitain dirigé par Alain Trudel. L’enregistrement révèle un jeune pianiste au sommet de son art et une phalange métropolitaine capable du meilleur même sans son chef habituel.

La force du souffle narratif, la primauté de la mélodie, l’ampleur de l’élan dramatique et la virtuosité lumineuse de la partition soliste sont comme intuitivement calquées l’une sur l’autre, bien qu’au talent brut Rachmaninov pouvait ajouter un solide métier.

Le Concerto no 4 de Mathieu a été retrouvé presque par miracle. Il ne restait pas de partitions, mais un enregistrement sur disque confié à une amie avant son décès. Une amie dont on avait perdu la trace. C’est pourtant elle qui se présenta, bien des années plus tard (en 2005) après un concert d’Alain Lefèvre pour lui remettre le précieux objet. C’est à partir de cet enregistrement du concerto qu’une partition viable existe désormais.

Un concerto qui a tout du grand geste romantique, mais qu’on sent tout de même moins naïf que le troisième.

Sylvestre, à l’image de Lefèvre, s’est emparé de cette œuvre et l’a faite sienne. Il semble regarder (et jouer) ce concerto comme un enfant heureux qui profite totalement de l’instant présent. Les couleurs qui jaillissent de ses doigts sont pétillantes et enjouées, malgré la mélancolie inhérente à la musique de Mathieu.

On sent l’enchantement de sa part vis-à-vis la Rhapsodie de Rachmaninov, qui virevolte comme l’eau d’une fontaine dans les passages agités. La plus que fameuse variation no 18, quant à elle, reçoit un traitement empreint d’une rare tendresse. C’est très beau et surtout idéalement romantique.

Frédéric Cardin - ICI Musique