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César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Piano Quintet in F minor [35:39]
Prélude, Choral et Fugue [18:52]
Jacqueline Eymar (piano)
Quatuor Loewenguth
rec. 1953 (Prelude); 1955 (quintet)

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Barcarolle No. 2 in G major, Op.41 [6:25]
Impromptu No. 2 in F minor, Op.31 [3:39]
Nocturne No. 1 in E flat minor, Op.33 [6:54]
Impromptu No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op.102 [2:09]
Nocturne No. 6 in D flat major, Op.63 [6:04]
Valse Caprice No. 3 in G major, Op.59 [6:30]
Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in G minor, Op. 117 [17:18]
Jacqueline Eymar (piano)
André Navarra (cello)
Annie d'Arco (piano: sonata)
rec. 22 December 1949, Studio Albert, Paris (Sonata); 1957, Paris (piano)

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 [25:30]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Arabesque No. 1 [4:16]
Jardins sous la pluie (Estampes No. 3) [3:40]
La cathédral engloutie (Preludes Book 1, No. 10) [6:29]
Minstrels (Preludes Book 1, No. 12) [2:24]
Les collines d’anacapri (Preludes Book 1, No. 5) [3:22]
Golliwogg’s cake-walk (Children’s Corner, No. 6) [2:49]
Clair de lune (Suite Bergamasque, No.3) [5:20]
L’isle joyeuse [5:19]
Jaqueline Eymar (piano)
rec. 1957

The focus of these three releases from Forgotten Records is the French pianist Jacqueline Eymar. This remarkable musician is all but forgotten today. She was born in Nice, in 1922, taking her early steps on the piano under the guidance of her mother, who was an assistant to a Mme Audibert-Lambert, a pupil of Alfred Cortot, at the Nice Conservatoire. She then progressed to the Paris Conservatoire to study with Yves Nat, who had a very high opinion of her, referring to her as ‘the Ginette Neveu of the piano’. Eymar later championed his Piano Concerto. From Nat she learned to shun mannerism and idiosyncrasy in favour of an objective respect for the composer. Her concert career took her across the cities of Europe and further afield to the USA, South America and Asia. Her repertoire centred on music of the romantic period: Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, as well as French music: Debussy, Fauré and Franck. She retired in the 1980s to Pourrières in south-eastern France, where she died on December 6, 2008.

Franck's Piano Quintet ranks alongside those by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Dvořák. Charles Tournemire considered the work the "King of piano quintets", and it has proved immensely popular particularly with French audiences. For this performance Eymar teams up with the Quatuor Loewenguth, which takes its name from Alfred Loewenguth, who founded the ensemble in 1929. A bit of digging around and I discovered that it had been recorded at the Bachzaal, Amsterdam, on 23 May 1955. The opening movement is passionate, romantic and dramatic. I especially love the slow movement wistful and emitting an autumnal glow, with the finale returning to heated passion. Franck's Prélude, Choral et Fugue was set down in the Salle Adyar, Paris, on 8 September 1953. A technical challenge for any pianist, Eymar takes it all in her stride and gives a performance of great emotional sweep; her sense of structure and architecture being a winner factor.

On the Fauré disc, Eymar chose a pleasing selection of contrasting pieces. Like Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, who specialized in this composer's music, her interpretations are probing and reveal the sheer inventiveness of these exquisitely lyrical scores. For me she fully captures each of the pieces individual character, whether it be the introspective longing of the Nocturne No. 1, or the mercurial whimsy of the third Valse caprice. In addition, her playing reveals the music's many hues.

Fauré composed two cello sonatas and here we have No 2 in G minor. André Navarra is partnered by the French pianist Annie d'Arco. The opening movement bristles with energy and fluidity. In the slow movement the cello's sombre lament is accompanied by a funereal tread. By contrast the finale is bright and breezy.

Brahms and Debussy feature on the third disc. Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel is a work of monumental grandeur. The theme, taken from Handel's Keyboard Suite in B flat, undergoes 25 variations topped off with a fugue. Eymar's recording stands shoulder to shoulder with two of the finest versions in the catalogue, those by Leon Fleisher and Murray Perahia. Her playing displays great prowess where the demands of complex passage work is called for. The Fugue is especially effective, with Eymar carefully teasing out the contrapuntal strands.

The Debussy selection derives from a Le Chant Du Monde LP (LD-S-8169), set down by Eymar in 1957. Her alluring wide colouristic palette suits this music to perfection. This is very evident in La cathédrale engloutie, where some stunning sonorities are achieved by some sensitive pedalling and refined voicing of chords. The quirky syncopations of Golliwog’s Cakewalk are guaranteed to raise a smile. L'îsle joyeuse, inspired by the French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau’s The Embarkation for Cythera, is a potent reading, orchestral in scope.

The remastering in all three discs has been expertly carried out. As with many of Forgotten Records releases, there are no booklet notes but relevant websites, indicated on the back trays, provide the listener with further sources of related information. I would also point you in the direction of a 'twofer' of radio recordings Eymar made between 1958-1972 on the Meloclassic label (review).

Stephen Greenbank

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