Testament SBT 1400, 68:44 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:
A few more precious recordings to add to the legacy of French piano virtuoso Germaine Thyssens-Valentin (1902-1987), the great pupil of Isidor Philipp – whose sound so much exudes the robust virility of Cortot and the elder Casadesus couple, Robert and Gaby. The two Franck opera come from 1954 sessions, and each bears the stamp of this fine interpreter’s bold, clear lines and her supple rhythmic propulsion. Wending her way through Franck’s thickly chromatic harmony, Thyssens-Valentin manages to keep the upper voices in plastic, linear progression, even in the midst of grinding stretti. The swift, gorgeous arpeggios just prior to the chorale theme after the big fugue luxuriate in a primal glow that lies between Liszt and Chopin, cross-fertilized by Bach’s keyboard syntax. None of that brittle, detached, staccato-chordal quality of so many French pianists; Thyssens-Valentin’s sound relishes the sonorous and the musically sibilant landscapes of late Romanticism, aided by plunging bass lines and deft pedaling. The Prelude, Aria and Finale is cast in more Lisztian terms; maybe its debts are to Liszt’s study on Salvatore Rosa as well as to Bach’s organ preludes. Thyssens-Valentin plays the piece for its jarring yet classical poise, its nods to Chopin’s late harmony. When her upper register sings, it rings true with nobility of soul. The Aria presents her music-box sonority, delicate yet ecstatically resonant. Several thundering moments in the Finale sound like Moussorgsky! When the lighter textures reign, the poetic impulse of this rare artist cannot be denied.
Thyssens-Valentin’s Nine Preludes of Faure date from 1960, and they allow the pianist to explore the modally angular world of one of France’s most idiosyncratic masters. Sounding like precursors (the A Major and C Minor) of the Debussy Preludes or his Estampes, the Faure set displays a series of ambivalent moods and colors, which occasionally wax skittish or turbulent in the C Sharp Minor and D Minor pieces. The G Minor prefigures Rachmaninov or Scriabin. A touch of Bach polyphony in the somber E-flat Minor Prelude, but not complacently situated. The C Minor makes for a brief toccata on repeated notes. The last, the E Minor, anticipates Debussy’s fog pieces, more liquid than Des pas de la neige but just as disturbing.
— Gary Lemco