Bulgarian-born Alexis Weissenberg will certainly be better known to all as a pianist and this particular CD appears to be the first and only dedicated to Weissenberg the composer.
Mulligan's first Improvisation is prettily pleasing, in a jiggy-jazzy kind of way. The second, with the tell-tale addition of that sax, is sure to satisfy those who like their jazz easy listening, going nowhere, saying nothing, never ending … and strangely only four minutes long. The third, 'C'est si Facile' is beautifully delicate and fragrant, although by the end of fourteen minutes Mulligan has stretched the already sparse material quantum-thin - but that is, admittedly, a defining trait of this kind of international bluesy style. The short 'finale' is Gershwin at 2.00am, winding down with a mug of cocoa.
There are forty minutes' worth of Weissenberg proper, but they are of some value. Le Regret is evocative in a Gallic kind of way: the music is gentle, somewhat long-winded, and sounding a bit like Skriabin if he had been into jazz rather than mysticism. The most interesting work, at least for those not out for the jazzier end of things, is the Sonata.
The Sonata is one of an intended cycle of seven Studies, each attached by title to a different state of mind. The influence of jazz can be heard in the rhythms and harmonies, but above all in the improvisatory nature of the music, which is of course illusory - Weissenberg uses up to four staves to communicate his intentions to the performer precisely. Nevertheless, the work, though generally lyrical, spends much of its time ranging intricately in chromatic territory, with forays into groove-free Skriabinesque atonality that will have jazz aficionados grabbing their coats. The four movements each represent a once-popular dance style - tango, Charleston, blues and samba - that add up to a nostalgic, attractive, if not always strictly coherent whole.
Simon Mulligan is a fairly high-profile performer. Unlike some pianists, however, Mulligan is fully deserving of the plaudits he has received over the years. He takes the technical complexities of the Sonata in his stride with room to spare, and seems genuinely to relish the rhythmic and harmonic vitality injected by the jazz idiom. On the other hand, what a treat it would have been to hear Weissenberg himself playing his own music!
Sound quality is very good. The English-French booklet is one of Nimbus's better ones, with a cinematic cover and black-and-white photos, clean and clear layout and informative notes by Weissenberg and Mulligan.