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Simon Mulligan: The Piano Music of Alexis Weissenberg

Casual record buyers, seeing a CD featuring compositions titled “Sonate en Etat de Jazz,” “Le Regret” and “4 Improvisations on Songs From ‘La Fugue’,” might well think that The Piano Music of Alexis Weissenberg, as performed by Simon Mulligan, is a jazz album. We would like to let you know that Alexis Weissenberg is a classical pianist best known for his traversals of Rachmaninov and other Romantic giants, and, according to the liner notes, he thinks a “state of jazz” is “inebriation, contamination, paroxysm, hysteria, palpitation and insanity.” While these feelings all play a role in jazz, some more than others, Weissenberg’s infatuation with them suggests that he is one in the long line of classical composers who like jazz but can’t quite capture it in their writing.

Nevertheless, the “Sonate” bristles with tension and invention, as the popular influences try to impose their rhythms and dialects on the sturdy classical base Weissenberg provides. The “Reflets d’un Blues” creates a hypnotic, sublimated atmosphere, while the Charleston and the samba spark the music into off-kilter rhythms and well-calculated astringencies. Without the popular accoutrements, “Le Regret” delivers much the same goods.

The improvisations are the product of pianist Mulligan, who divides his time between playing classical recitals, gigging with his jazz quartet and composing. His improvisations on Weissenberg’s musical comedy score run the gamut from sparkly virtuosity to expansive lyricism; most bear up well under repeated listening as semiclassical subjects treated with a deft jazz style. A good pickup for fans of both jazz and classical, then, but know what you’re getting.

Originally Published