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Monique Haas and Madeleine de Valmalète (piano)
Legendary French Pianists
rec. 1950-1964
MELOCLASSIC MC1052 [71:58 + 78:26]

This album celebrates two French pianists who were more or less contemporary, namely Madeleine de Valmalète (1899–1999) and Monique Haas (1909–1987). Madeleine de Valmalète isn’t that well-known, in fact this is the first time I’ve come across her, but Monique Haas is a much more familiar name. The value of this 2 CD set is that it features much music never recorded commercially by the two artists.

Monique Haas was born in Paris, and was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire aged eleven. Eventually she progressed to the class of Lazare-Lévy. Later she studied privately with Rudolf Serkin, Georges Enescu and Robert Casadesus. A promising career beckoned, and she made her debut at the Salle Érard in 1928. Although an advocate of French composers, extending from Couperin to Messiaen, she had a wide-ranging repertoire, embracing the music of Mozart, Chopin, Bartók and Hindemith. In addition to her concert tours, which were extensive, she taught at the Paris Conservatoire between 1967 and 1970.

The accompanying liner notes speak of the high esteem in which Haas was held as a chamber musician. The Mozart chamber concert given on the 2 July 1956 in Ludwigsburg whole-heartedly bears this out. She joins the Trio Pasquier - Jean (violin), Pierre (viola) and Étienne (cello) for the two piano quartets. These are masterly works, fusing concertante keyboard writing with chamber music style. The G minor’s opening movement has sufficient urgency and its finale, together with that of its companion work in E flat, is playful and high-spirited. This is stylish and tasteful playing at its very best, with each individual player responding to each other with acute sensitivity. There’s a fine sense of balance, with ample space around each instrument. The Piano Quintet is no less engaging, this time Haas is partnered by some illustrious wind players. Tempos are well judged and, as in the piano quartets, the performers play the music with a singularity of vision. It’s a stylish and considered reading.

In January 1964, the pianist performed the unashamedly Romantic Symphonic Variations by César Franck with the Amsterdams Kunstmaandorkest under the sympathetic baton of Anton Kersjes. Haas truly conveys the richness of the piano writing, contrasting virtuosity with expressive lyricism. It’s a tight-knit performance with no sense of meandering which can afflict some performances. The three delightful morsels by Rameau and Couperin display the pianist’s affinity with this music, whose strong ear for rhythm and articulation is a compelling feature.

Madeleine de Valmalète, also a Parisian by birth, was fortunate to be nurtured in an artistic household. Her mother was a painter and harboured ambitions for her daughter to become a concert pianist. She was a student of Isadore Philipps at the Paris Conservatoire, along with Yvonne Lefébure and Marcelle Meyer. He instilled into his students qualities such as velocity, jeu perlé and expressiveness. In 1914 she took the conservatory’s Premier Prix. Between 1949 and 1960 she taught at the École Normale de Musique, followed by a thirteen year stint at the Conservatoire de Grenoble (1961-1974). She lived to the grand old age of 100.

She’s represented by two concerto performances, both partnered by conductors that are hardly household names - André Audoli in the Saint-Saëns and Éric-Paul Stekel in the Mozart. Saint-Saëns evergreen Concerto No. 2 is probably the most popular of his five and has had its fair share of recordings. How does this live airing stack up? Very well, I think. In the first movement the opening, in the style of a Bach fantasia, is refined with the big tune expressively contoured. The Allegro scherzando, which follows, has an elfin-like delicacy. Audoli’s handling of the orchestration is superb,  keeping everything lithe and fleet of foot. The Presto finale is dispatched with breathtaking virtuosity. I don’t feel as positive about Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat, especially the opening movement. Éric-Paul Stekel must take some of the blame. The Allegro is heavy laden and unsmiling, drained of all joy and uplift. This more sobre approach suits the Andantino better. The finale has sufficient buoyancy to redeem things somewhat.

These recordings must be enthusiastically endorsed for their rarity value, especially those of de Valmalète, whose recordings are difficult to come by. I commend the detailed biographies that Michael Waiblinger has written. This is, indeed, a release that pays rich rewards.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [71:58]
SAINT-SAËNS: Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor, Op 22
Madeleine de Valmalète ∙ piano
Orchestre Symphonique de France
André Audoli ∙ conductor
Recorded · 11 July 1959 · Marseille · Opéra · RTF · Live Recording

MOZART: Piano Concerto No 9 in E-flat Major, KV 271
Madeleine de Valmalète ∙ piano
Orchestre Philharmonique de la RTF
Eric Paul Stekel ∙ conductor
Recorded · 20 August 1962 · Paris · Salle Pleyel · RTF · Live Recording

FRANCK: Symphonic Variations, M 46
Monique Haas ∙ piano
Amsterdams Kunstmaandorkest
Anton Kersjes ∙ conductor
Recorded · 05 January 1964 · Amsterdam · Grote Zaal · NCRV · Live Recording

CD 2 [78:26]
MOZART: Piano Quartet in G Minor, KV 478
MOZART: Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, KV 493
Monique Haas · piano
Jean Pasquier · violin
Pierre Pasquier · viola
Étienne Pasquier · cello
Recorded · 02 July 1956 · Ludwigsburg · Schloss Ordenssaal · SDR · Live Recording

MOZART: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, KV 452
Monique Haas · piano
Fritz Fischer · oboe
Walter Triebskorn · clarinet
Werner Büttner · horn
Herbert Anton · bassoon
Recorded · 02 July 1956 · Ludwigsburg · Schloss Ordenssaal · SDR · Live Recording

RAMEAU: Gavotte variée
COUPERIN: Les Barricades mysterieuses
COUPERIN: Le Tic-Toc-choc
Monique Haas ∙ piano
Recorded · 13 May 1950 · Stuttgart · Studio VI · SDR · Radio Studio Recording

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