Jean-Michael Damase (1928-2013): Symphonie; Piano Concerto No. 2; Concertino; Flute Concerto / Ashley Wass, piano; Anna Noakes, flute. Martin Yates Feb01

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Dutton Dutton Records: "One of the UK's finest record labels, specializing in re-issuing on CD music recorded between the 1920's and 1970's, and in issuing albums of modern digital recordings."
Release Date: 2014-09-09

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Jean-Michel Damase: Symphonie; Piano Concerto No. 2; Concertino; Flute Concerto

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The Dutton record label initially built its reputation issuing audiophile-quality transfers from 78-rpm shellac discs recorded between 1920 and 1970. While the label has continued this avenue of activity, it also issues world-premiere recordings of little-known but deserving works by 20th-century composers, in superb modern digital sound. This is what we have here. Under the direction of Martin Yates, the BBC Concert Orchestra performs four works by Jean-Michel Damase - three concertos and a Symphony. These works were composed over a forty year period, all after 1950.

Jean-Michel Damase (1928-2013) was born in Bordeaux, France. A prodigy, he was studying piano with Alfred Cortot at the age of twelve and won the first prize for composition at the Conservatoire de Paris, as well as the Grand Prix de Rome, in 1947. His world-premiere recording of Gabriel Fauré's complete nocturnes and barcaroles was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque.

Damase's music can be light and airy or scale glorious heights in magnificent orchestral splendor. The musical language is shamelessly tonal, his forms are traditional and he exhibits many original musical inspirations if perhaps not original concepts. The strongest influences - Poulenc, Honegger, Fauré to name a few - are largely French. He had a flair for writing beautiful melodies with pleasing harmonies and progressions. His conservative use of dissonance is elemental to the expression of the music, often used to disquiet the ear before clouds break in an ensuing consonant and very beautiful section. For example, the Piano Concerto no. 2 opens with a somber, march-like motif in the bassoons. To this, Damase adds clarinets, then trumpets, building in intensity and becoming more dissonant until, in a wash of golden harmonic sunlight, comes the first entrance of the solo piano. With Damase, the sun always comes out.

The album contains the Piano Concerto no. 2, the Flute Concerto, a Concertino for piano and string orchestra and concludes with his only symphony. The excellent soloists are pianist Ashley Wass and flautist Anna Noakes. Listening to the entire album, you may come to notice a few mannerisms in terms of harmony and modulation, but they are pleasing ones, in music that was obviously written to be enjoyed. I wish I could have shared the glorious first movement of the Symphony with you, but it is longer than I like to allow for my samples. You'll just have to get the CD.

Jean-Michael Damase Performs his Piano Concerto No. 1