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Marguerite Long (piano) Volume 1: Fauré and d’Indy
rec. 1930-1957 APR 6038 [74:31 + 80:33]
By happy coincidence, when I received this APR release to review I was just finishing reading Cecilia Dunoyer’s biography of the pianist Marguerite Long – A Life in French Music.
Long (1874-1966) was the French pianist most closely associated with Fauré’s music, dedicating her long and successful career to the promotion of it. She’d worked with him for a decade, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. He once called her “a shameless woman who uses my name to get on.” After a while, their friendship soured. Some put it down to the composer’s relationship with pianist Marguerite Hasselmans, whilst others attributed it to her being passed over for promotion at the Paris Conservatoire in 1907 when Antoine François Marmontel died. It wasn’t until 1920 that Long finally received full professorship, succeeding Louis Diémer.
Two versions of Fauré’s Ballade in F-sharp Major for Piano and Orchestra bookend the collection on these two discs. The first dates from 1930, in which Long is partnered by Philippe Gaubert and the Orchestre de la société des concerts du Conservatoire; it was the pianist’s first recording of a work by Fauré. The second traversal was set down in 1950 with the same orchestra under the direction of André Cluytens. Although hardly performed these days, I find it a delightful score of bucolic sentiments and melodic largesse. The 1950 version is slightly preferable in my view, benefitting from a more probing and expansive approach.
The eight solo piano works of Fauré were recorded by Long over a twenty-four year period between 1933 and 1957. Two of the pieces were recorded twice, the Barcarolle No. 6 and the Impromptu No. 2. The earlier outings were made in 1937 and 1933 respectively, with the remakes done on 15 March 1957. The later recordings have less surface noise. The Barcarolle No.6 is voluptuous, lyrical and charming. In both versions, Long’s playing is colourful and beautifully phrased. It’s not difficult to explain the Second Impromptu’s popularity. It’s cast in the form of a tarantella and is a moto perpetuo for the most part. Long’s pearl-like runs and delicacy of articulation are beyond reproach. Fauré’s thirteen Nocturnes are some of the most attractive and original pieces he created. Long performs Nos. 4 and 6. They are lovingly caressed by Long with rubato judiciously applied. Soprano Ninon Vallin joins the pianist for Les Berceaux Op.23 No.1, which speaks of love and sadness - ‘Men must work, and women must weep’, as sailors go off to sea. We hear the heartbreak of the women left behind. Vallin’s impeccable technique and expressive shading certainly shine through.
CD 2 is devoted predominantly to the two piano quartets. The First Piano Quartet was the first work by Fauré that Long performed, back in 1904 with the composer turning pages. It’s imbued with outpourings of passion, reflecting the composer’s broken engagement to the daughter of Pauline Viardot. This heartbreak is especially evident in the third movement Adagio. The recording dates from 1956, and Long is joined by the Trio Pasquier (Jean Pasquier (violin), Pierre Pasquier (viola) and Etienne Pasquier (cello)). The group steer us through a whole gamut of emotions. I particularly like the more upbeat Scherzo, propelled by lithe rhythms. The recording is in much better sound than that of the Second Piano Quartet from sixteen years earlier.
The Second Piano Quartet was set down Friday 10th May, 1940. It’s the only Fauré recording the pianist made during the war years. She’s joined by Jacques Thibaud (violin), Maurice Vieux (viola) and Pierre Fournier (cello). The day of the recording was significant, in that it marked the German invasion of Holland. Thibaud was worried about his soldier son Roger; he was killed in action two days later. Yet, despite the concern, Long felt that Thibaud had never played so well. The Quartet is darker and more profound than its predecessor, and is one of the composer’s finest chamber works. Robert Orledge in his biography of Fauré comments that it "marks a significant advance on the First Quartet in the force of its expression, the greater rhythmic drive and complexity of its themes, and its deliberately unified conception". The opening movement is bold and confident. The two central movements form a contrast, the first agitated, the second slow movement of wistful reflection. Thibaud achieves some magical pianissimos, set against Long’s delicate accompaniment – the effect is magical.
Paul Paray and the Orchestre du Concerts Colonne partner Long in Vincent d'Indy’s popular Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français, Op. 25 in a recording from 1934. D’Indy composed the work in 1886, utilizing a folk melody he heard in the Cévennes mountains. It started life as a Fantaisie for piano and orchestra, gradually evolving into its present three-movement structure. This evocative performance is wonderful in every way, with conductor and pianist having a singularity of vision. Long deftly weaves rich webs of piano figuration along the course, and there’s plenty of frisson, verve and vigour in the third movement.
The recordings of this Volume 1 compilation date between 1930 and 1957, and have greatly benefitted from the superb restorations of Mark Obert-Thorn. Now we can listen to these wonderful aural documents in the very best possible way. I compared the Second Piano Quartet transfer with that on my Marguerite Long plays Fauré CD (BIDDULPH LHW 035). APR’s transfer has quieter surface noise, sounds less rough-edged and has more vibrancy and presence. APR’s documentation is, as always, beyond reproach, with an excellent contribution from Roger Nichols. I look forward to Volume 2.
Contents Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Ballade Op.19 orchestral version (1877/1881) [13:21]
Barcarolle No.6 in E flat major Op.70 (1896) [3:13]
Impromptu No.2 in F minor Op.31 (1883) [3:07]
Impromptu No.5 in F sharp minor Op.102 (1909) [1:59]
Nocturne No.4 in E flat major Op.36 (c.1884) [4:38]
Nocturne No.6 in D flat major Op.63 (c.1894) [8:12]
Barcarolle No.2 in G major Op.41 (1885) [6:04]
Barcarolle No.6 in E flat major Op.70 (1896) [3:35]
Impromptu No.2 in F minor Op.31 (1883) [3:27]
Les Berceaux Op.23 No.1 (1879) [2:54]
Vincent d'INDY (1851-1931)
Symphonie sur un Chant montagnard Français Op.25 (1886) [23:51]
Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.15 (1876-79) [32:00]
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor Op.45 (1885-86) [34:00]
Ballade Op.19 orchestral version (1877/1881) [14:27]
Philippe Gaubert (conductor)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
Paul Paray (conductor)
Orchestre du concerts Colonne
Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Jean Pasquier (violin)
Pierre Pasquier (viola)
Étienne Pasquier (cello)
Jacques Thibaud (violin)
Maurice Vieux (viola)
Pierre Fournier (cello)
André Cluytens (conductor)