Very few members of the rain-weary audience in the Granada Saturday night may have known it, but they were stepping out of the cold and into history. A magnificent lost work by a nearly forgotten genius, André Mathieu, came back from the grave, and we were privileged to hear its West Coast premiere. Alain Lefèvre and the Santa Barbara Symphony played Mathieu’s Piano Concerto No. 4 as if possessed, and the spirit of miraculous renewal carried over the intermission to César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor.
No one could have been a better pianist for this event than Alain Lefèvre. A widely acclaimed pianist and composer from Quebec, he was also behind the amazing recovery of Mathieu’s work. After a performance of another work by Mathieu in 2005, Lefèvre received a mysterious set of old vinyl records from a woman claiming to have been Mathieu’s “last sweetheart.” It contained a previously unknown recording of the composer playing both the solo and the orchestra parts. Working with these recordings and other archival materials, composer and conductor Gilles Bellemare reconstructed a working score for Lefèvre, who first performed it two years ago in Tucson to rave reviews.
Saturday night’s performance more than justified these extraordinary efforts; Lefèvre and the Santa Barbara Symphony showed us that it represents a major leap forward in musical thought. Rather than placing the soloist and orchestra in opposition, as many traditional works do, here Mathieu integrates them into a single yet multifaceted voice, as if both pianist and orchestra are merely extensions of the composer’s expansive mind. In this way, a motif begun on the piano can move seamlessly into the strings, then the winds, and just as effortlessly return to the keyboard. When Lefèvre sounded the final notes with a shake of his head, the audience gave him a spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation.
The good feeling continued throughout the evening, which included a poem reflecting on Franck’s Symphony in D Minor recited by Santa Barbara’s Poet Laureate, David Starkey. It ends, “What we seek is what will last, / as long as we heed the tempo: fast, but not too fast.” We have found what we sought: an enduring work of music, newly rediscovered. Congratulations to Nir Kabaretti, Alain Lefèvre, and the Santa Barbara Symphony for making us part of music history.