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Early Piano Music From Dimitri Tiomkin

Albertina Rasch and the Great American Ballet

Lynda Cochrane, piano.

Intrada 7174

Total Time: 72:33

Recording: ****/****

Performance: ****/****

In 2019, Intrada released a rare re-recording of music by Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) that was composed during his initial days in American in the late 1920s and 1930s working with Albertina Rasch (1891-1976), an early pioneer of modern dance. In that earlier overview of the release, it was noted how her troupe performed on vaudeville as part of Ziegfield productions and even appeared at the Moulin Rouge. Early projects included work on George White’s Scandals. Prior to heading to Hollywood, she began conceiving intriguing abstract choreography for pieces like Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Tiomkin was one of the duo piano act that came with the Rasch dancers. It was he who suggested some of the musical staging of Gershwin’s music to Rasch. This would lead to her developing what would come to be referred to as “American Ballet” blending classical ballet movements with those of American jazz and popular dance. Tiomkin would compose a number of ballet works for her troupe which were part of that initial Intrada release (Intrada 7158).

One of the always telling components of these releases is how well-versed these early Hollywood composers were in the styles and movements of the time. The pieces in this collection are all from a period between 1927 and 1932 and are being recorded here for the first time. The music shows how steeped Tiomkin was in musical modernism and popular styles blending well into his own. This is on display in the opening two contrasting works. The first, Valse Grace, is a beautiful miniature with elegant writing that has Ravel’s La Valse in mind and fits firmly in this Impressionist style. The piece that follows it, Scarlet Jazz, is a great example of stylized concert jazz with its ragtime-like rhythms and slight impressionist writing. The Suite Choreographic has a blend of these qualities as well with a bit of Debussy, and stark pentatonic shaping and harmonies, alongside a semi-salon quality with nods to popular music of the period.

The works on the album feature a variety of these shorter musical statements in pieces that were written for Rasch’s ballet performances. Some would be orchestrated into full performances (like their first full collaboration, Paris aux etoiles), while some written for other stage performances went unused. Others like Scarlet Jazz and Quasi-Jazz were often included on some of Tiomkin’s own recitals where alongside the work of Debussy and Poulenc show perhaps his fondness for modern French style and the developments of Les Six. Tiomkin would also mine some of these works for his film scores. In The Land of Narcissus is one of them which would find its way into a ballet sequence in Lord Byron of Broadway (1930).

Other post-Impressionist colorists can also be discerned in some of the Spanish dance forms that Tiomkin uses in Fiesta and Au Mexique. The rhythms and gestures all help make these miniatures quite enchanting. That description really can apply to most all of the music throughout which is like sitting back in a artsy salon delighting to the virtuosic pianism of the music and the melodic variety that stretches across the many pieces included here. From these pieces, one gains a deeper appreciation for Tiomkin’s melodic gifts as well as his blend of American jazz and modernist styles. For those who appreciate the music of this era, the present release will surely be a sheer delight of repeated listening.

Of course, this is also owed to the excellent performances of pianist Lynda Cochrane who fully grasps the genteel moments alongside the period musical qualities infused into the works here. There are surely many technical demands here that would make many of these pieces perfect as extra encores and Cochrane dashes these off well but also takes time to shape the music which gives it extra character. It makes for a very entrancing recital.

Intrada’s sound here is superb. The recording venue gives us a natural piano sound that puts us front and center in the sound picture with just a touch of room ambience lending a fuller body to the sound. With a plethora of classic releases that appeared at the end of 2022, this release may have slipped under the radar, but it is worth making a part of any film music fan’s collection along with its predecessor. One cannot recommend it enough!


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