Emma Boynet: The Complete Solo 78-rpm Recordings and Faure LPs  – APR

by | Mar 1, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Emma Boynet: The Complete Solo 78-rpm Recordings and Faure LPs = SCHUBERT; WEBER; FAURE; ; FALLA; HAYDN; CHABRIER; FAURE; DEBUSSY; PIERNE; PHILIPP; SEVERAC; IBERT; FAURE [complete list of compositions below] – APR 6033 (2 CDs) 82:42; 82:15 (12/23/20) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

French pianist Emma Boynet (1891-1974) enjoyed the enduring sponsorship of pedagogue and composer Isidore Philipp from the Paris Conservatory. Boynet made a specialty of French music; and Jacques Thibaud, temporarily having taken up the baton, chose Boynet for a performance of D’Indy’s Symphony on a French Mountain Air in 1933. Her work in America with conductor Isidore Philipp caught the attention of Serge Koussevitzky, who engaged her for concertos in Boston with the Symphony: in 1935 they performed the Saint-Saens’ C Minor Concerto, a work Koussevitzky did not record commercially. In 1938 she played the Mozart C Major Concerto, K. 467 with Koussevitzky.  With Rudolf Ganz and the New York Philharmonic, Boynet played Liszt’s Hungarian Fantasy and subsequently became a “Steinway artist.”  Prior to the Nazi invasion of France, Boynet had become famous for her work on French radio networks, and she engaged in ensembles led by violinist Alfred Loewenguth. 

Boynet’s tutorship with Isidore Philipp has been characterized as “draconian,” emphasizing scales, double notes, rhythmic patterns, extension and holding exercises, an intense regimen that enforced rapid playing, independence of the fingers, and so complete control of all physical means in the service of the “corporeal to the mind.” Thus, Boynet received plaudits for “a rare superiority of technique, style, and musicality.” In 1911, she had received recognition as “a fully formed artist, already mastering not only her vocation but also that which cannot be taught.” After a Mozart Concerto in G Major, K. 453 under Charles-Marie Widor, critics applauded her “penetrating sound” and “sparkling technique.” In 1923, following her first solo recital, critic Pierre de Lapommeraye lauded her “charm and grace, the complete submission of technique to her deep, natural sensibility, to this mature artistic intelligence.”  In 1925, after a performance of the Debussy Fantaisie under Phillippe Gaubert, scholar Paul Le Flem celebrated Boynet’s “original interpretation, with such deft feeling, such poignant expression.” 

And so we have a 2-disc set arranged and edited by the ever-industrious Mark Obert-Thorn: a series of records, 1933-34, for Pathe in Paris; 12 records for RCA Victor in New York, 1934-38; 4 records for Polydor, 1939; and 17 recordings for Vox in Paris and New York, 1950 and 1952. Besides the consistently luminous quality of the RCA recordings – the product of single takes – the sets of Vox recordings capture Boynet’s warmly polished, stylistically fluent sense of Gabriel Faure’s style: intimate, classically refined, and emotionally balanced. The six Barcarolles prove airy and buoyant at once, touched especially by the composer’s syntax and modal harmony for erotic allure. The middle section of the Op. 41 G Major projects a rarified, enchanted mood. Moments in the Nocturnes borrow from Sebastian Bach. Many of the qualifies that define the Faure style would likely characterize much of the Brahms late keyboard oeuvre, although Faure has imbibed more of Chopin. The parlando and arioso qualities in the first of the Trois romances sans paroles (in A-flat Major) breathe more of Chopin than the Mendelssohn of the namesake, “Songs without Words.”  The second, in A Minor, has a busier and darker, more virtuosic texture.  The last, in A-flat Major, seems to nod to Liszt in its lyrical, nocturnal evocation. A truly pearly experience lies in wait for those who audition the transcription of Clair de lune (rec. 12 June 1950).  

The six Nocturnes (rec. 23 April 1952) reveal, to a quintessential degree, that the vocal training Boynet possessed informs her breathed phrases and applied lightness of touch: witness the second, quite ecstatic, half of her Nocturne No. 1 in E-flat Minor, and her watery, leggiero effects in the expansive, angular D-flat Nocturne No. 6, Op. 63.  That Boynet could command a more forceful yet agile syntax, perhaps invoking distant bells, occurs in the No. 2 in B Major. The last of the group, No. 7 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 74 (1898), from first to last retains a sturdy, ballade-like character, often pungent and akin to Schumann in its moody and mercurial temperaments.  

Remarkable among the diverse items of Disc 1 are the four Ancient Airs and Dances – we tend to think immediately of Respighi – from 1939, each having been arranged for the piano by Isidore Philippe.  The Largo of Leonardo Vinci exploits strummed effects. The delicate Minuetto vivace by Rutini has a dedication from Philipp to Emma Boynet. Savor the subtle rubato and leggierissimo in Boynet’s delivery. Air by Pasquini provides an alla musette rife with balanced phrases in the manner of Lully. The Sicilienne et Gavotte of Pietro Castrucci concludes the set: charming and courtly, the music proceeds to its staccato dance and a series of brief variants. Some fleet, scurrying excitement lies in Boynet’s Weber Rondo brillante from Pathe in Paris (22 January 1934), subtitled “La gaite,” and so it is. Equally energetic, touched with a bit of Iberian wildness, her Andaluza by Falla (13 November 1933) enjoys a vital, erotic flavor of gypsy temperament. 

Of the single-take RCA Victor recordings, the first entry, Bach’s Allein Gott in der Hoeh sei Ehr, “All Glory to God on High” (rec. 26 October 1934), combines the stately chorale with a lively bass pattern. The Haydn Sonata in C third movement displays the pungent, brisk staccatos and fiendish runs in Boynet’s arsenal. The two Chabrier items colorfully preserve, respectively (from 19 and 31 January 1938), her suave rubato in rhythmic variation (in the Idylle) and capacity for clarity in stretti and contrapuntal lines (in the Bourree fantasque). The “exotic” temper of Debussy’s Prelude No. 4 of Book I, Les sons et les parfumes tournent dans l’air du soir, projects a haunted sensibility.  A rarity among piano pieces, Pierne’s Nocturne en forme de valse (19 January 1938), elicits a gentle tracery over an extended salon moment. The lovely Nocturne, Op. 90, by Boynet’s influential teacher Isidore Philipp (rec. 26 October 1934) has a Moorish flavor, romantic and fervent.  His Feux-follets, Op. 24, No. 3 from the same New York session bears obvious traits with Liszt’s self-same study, but the blazing passion in this rendition and its clean application in repeated notes attest to Boynet’s special virtuosity. Déodat de Séverac, a composer much admired by American composer David Diamond, has one glittering example, Baigneuses au soleil, “Bathers in the Sun,” a glittery, zither-like piece that easily could pass as one by Debussy. The two Ibert selections seem to extend a style we find in Scarlatti, especially in the first piece, La marchande d’eau fraiche (The Vendor of Fresh Water), in which lightness of touch makes it a minor toccata. The popular Le petit ane blanc, “The Little White Donkey,” provides yet another study in staccatos and canny pedal effects. 

The entire collection has been a markedly joyful and musically exciting series of discoveries, beautifully restored. 

Emma Boynet: The Complete Solo 78-rpm Recordings and Faure LPs: 
SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat Major, D. 899, No. 3
WEBER: Rondo brillante, Op. 62
FAURE: Nocturne No. 4, Op. 36; Impromptu No. 2, Op. 31
FALLA: Andaluza
BACH (arr. Perrachio): Allein Gott in der Hoeh sel Ehr
HAYDN: Rondo from Sonata in C Major
CHABRIER: Idylle; Bourree fantasque
FAURE: Barcarolle No. 5, Op. 66;
DEBUSSY: Les sons et les parfumes tournent dans l’air du soir
PIERNE: Nocturne en forme de valse
PHILIPP: Nocturne, Op. 90; Feux-follets
SEVERAC: Balgneuses  au soleil; IBERT: La marchande d’eau fraiche; Le petit ane blanc; 4 Ancient Airs and Dances (trans, Philipp)
FAURE (on Vox LP): 6  Barcarolles; Trois Romances sans paroles, Op. 17; Improvisation; Clair de lune; 6 Nocturnes 

—Gary Lemco


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