It was always the heartfelt wish of Jean Francaix that his music should give enjoyment and pleasure to his listeners, and in this 3 CD collection of his music for piano he does just that. From the early For Jacqueline published at the age of ten to the Nocturne written when the composer was a sprightly 82, the good humour is ever-present virtually untroubled by any sense of melancholy. One could describe this music as neoclassicism without tears . Although sometimes the harmonies are jazzily spiced, there is never any of the sense of experimentation with multi-tonality than can at times make the music of Les Six so unsettling. To subject every piece on this comprehensive collection to a detailed analysis or criticism would be to break a butterfly on a wheel. It is best to highlight some pieces which bring particular pleasure. The Fifteen Portraits of children by Auguste Renoir, designed like many of the pieces here as teaching vehicles, open with a beautiful berçeuse which has all the charm of Faure s Dolly Suite but which at under a minute in duration is all too brief. The Three studies on the white notes, also designed as exercises for children, create evocative music from their very limitations, with a beautifully pensive second movement entitled La reveur pendant la lecon de piano. The pastiches which constitute La promenade d un musicologue eclectique bring some delightfully tongue in cheek touches: Handels grand opening gestures lead to a quicker passage which sounds rather like a version of Charlie is my darling, and Scarlatti gets gloriously mixed up with Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Françaix extracted the Hommage à Maurice Ravel from this suite and orchestrated it as Pavane pour un Génie vivant. The composer s highly satirical view of contemporary music in the next sketch is described in the booklet as too poisonous to be really amusing but its encapsulation of avant-garde absurdities in a span of just over two minutes is all too realistic and great fun as a result: a passage where the piano is tapped is drily marked maestoso, and the piece begins in silence with a brief meditation, right hand on the keys, left hand in Glenn Gould position. The resolutely twelve-tone Humphrey Searle got away with this sort of thing in his Hoffnung concert parodies such as Punkt Kontrapunkt; why should Françaix be denied his chance to join in the fun? The final section pokes sly fun at Adam s O holy night. The incredibly precocious suite For Jacqueline brings the survey of the music originally written for piano on the first two discs to an end. One notes that the composer s style really changed very little over the following seventy years although perhaps his very mild flirtation with harmonic astringency abated slightly over time. Certainly the Rock n Roll finale to the Eight exotic dances has very little sense of rock music about it, with much more kinship to Milhaud s Scaramouche for the same two piano medium. The most substantial work on these three discs is the 1960 Piano Sonata, which although it is less than ten minutes in duration is clearly meant to be taken seriously. The second movement Elegy is nicely judged. The work was dedicated to Idil Biret who recorded it at the time of the première when she was nineteen, and whose recording has been reissued. Jones obviously brings greater maturity and warmth to the score, and his recorded sound is superior. The final disc contains music from three of Françaix s film scores in piano arrangements, and these three suites are the longest pieces in the collection. Jones plays, as one would expect, with absolute precision and assurance and his partners in the works for two pianos or piano (four hands) match him stylishly. Here we have hours of harmless delight --Paul Corfield Godfrey, Musicweb-international.com
All the music is played with dazzling wit and style by Martin Jones. Nimbus's sound is excellent throughout. The warmest possible recommendation. --Bryce Morrison, Gramophone, November 2012
About the Artist
Martin Jones has been one of Britain's most highly regarded solo pianists since first coming to international attention in 1968 when he received the Dame Myra Hess Award. The same year he made his London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and his New York debut at Carnegie Hall, and ever since has been in demand for recitals and concerto performances on both sides of the Atlantic.