Over to Paris this week for a special concert by Orchestre National d’Ile de France, conducted by Enrique Mazzola and featuring Rex Lawson on the Pianola.
Opening with Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde and ending with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the centerpiece for the concert is a recently discovered and restored ballet written in 1928 and almost completely forgotten since it’s world premier. La Bien-Aimée (The Beloved) was a one-act Ballet for Pianola and Orchestra. Based on themes by Liszt and Schubert, it received its premier on November 22, 1928 and hadn’t been performed since, subsequently falling into complete oblivion until its recent discovery. This performance is the first one since that premier, and it features a completely restored Pianola and score, a mechanical instrument about as obscure as the ballet which featured it. It was never performed anywhere else in the world, so this actually constitutes a World Premier.
Soloist is Rex Lawson, who is an authority on the Pianola and an enthusiastic restorer of the instrument. For those of you not knowing what a Pianola is, it was a version of the Player piano. But instead of playing a piano roll originated at the keyboard, the roll was perforated by a technician who marked the appropriate places based on the score – subsequently, there are no changes of tempo, rubato or phrasing on normal pianola rolls, but instead the operator is provided with a tempo control, which must be used to create musical performances. To take the simplest of examples, the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth, with its dramatic pauses, would rush inexorably past on a standard music roll, if the pianolist were not ready to delay its course appropriately. So recreating the original Pianola score required an intense amount of work – not just in the restoration of the Orchestral score, but also the score for the Pianola itself.
The results are worth it. Not earth-shattering (like The Rite Of Spring), but a charming and engaging score in typical Milhaud fashion. And both Mazzola and Lawson handle the duties wonderfully well – as does the orchestra. Good work all around.
This performance took place in Paris on April 8, 2016 and was recorded for posterity by Radio France Musique, who do their typically extraordinary job. The audience is enthusiastic and the Pianola does a bang-up job.
Enjoy – and unless they release an album of the piece, this may be the only chance you get to hear it.