Marguerite Long, Vol. 2: Piano works of Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Milhaud – Marguerite Long, piano / Paris Conservatory Orchestra – APR 6039 (2 CDs: 2 hrs 25 mins, complete listing below) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
A second volume of recordings, 1932-1952, devoted to the art of pianist Marguerite Long (1874-1966), edited and restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, centers on Long’s relationship to French music, even though Chopin, who thoroughly occupies Disc One, arrives by way of Poland. The opening selection, Chopin’s powerful Fantasy in F Minor (11 May 1929) represents the earliest entry of the collection. Long’s reading has a dry sonority, but her rendition soars at moments with grand fervor, sudden impetus, and a grudging passion. Long keeps a tight rein on rubato and pedal, but she does possess a true jeu perle. In a nod to an older tradition in Chopin playing, she adds extra bass notes to underline the harmonic drama. Some notes in the martial stretto near the coda get lost, but the cumulative effect remain one of devotional and stylistic command. Utterly charming, the Mazurka in F# Minor (6 November 1929) projects tesknota (poignant nostalgia) and liquid flair for Chopin’s shifting agogic pulses. The Waltz in A-flat (3 June 1929) reveals a capacity for sudden explosions in acceleration. The D-flat Waltz (12 November 1929) basks in idiosyncratic lilts and tugs in rubato, subtle and tasteful.
Many acclaim Long’s recording of the Chopin Barcarolle (6 March 1932) as a cause for celebration, an evocation of epic grandeur in the form of an extended gondola song. The strength of Long’s trill alone warrants repeated hearing. The ferocity of the middle section testifies both to an innate sense of style and the influence of Debussy’s instruction on Chopin aesthetics. The fluttering, high scales capture the Venetian waves magically, while the bass tones intimate a passion ever ready to emerge in this romantic environ. Clarity and tasteful nuance mark Long’s Berceuse (12 January 1937, from a Japanese Columbia shellac), which some auditors may compare favorably – despite a glitch in her right hand, late, eliding the F natural – with the standard set by the British artist Solomon in 1932. From the same session and also issued only by Japanese Columbia, the Fantasie-Impromptu concedes to the older style of pianism, delaying the right hand attacks but no less demonstrating a peerless technique in quick and accurate articulation. The sheer breadth of Long’s Scherzo No. 2 (23 July 1936/10 May 1937) might compare favorably with those who admire Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in this massive work. The fact that almost one year separates the recording sessions raises some speculation on whether Long approved the final result. Long, nevertheless, combines power and finesse in an epic adventure, shading the soft chords with infinite degrees of light and shade, and these qualities shine through some vociferous surface noise on these Japanse 78s. Long’s legato projects its own wonder, blended as it is with Long’s freer application of rubato than has been her wont thus far.
The performance of Chopin’s F Minor Concerto (28-29 June 1929) stands as the work’s formal debut on record, presumably in the composer’s original edition, despite attempts by Long and composer Andre Messager to impose his orchestration on Columbia. Conductor Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) allows old-world portamento into his reading, and the violin tone of the French orchestra tends to sound reedy. But Long has the Concerto completely at her command, her aristocratic poise in the noble, melodically and metrically diverse, periods quite persuasive. Long’s dragonfly leggierissimo in the Larghetto rivals what Josef Hofmann could bring to the keyboard. Her articulation in the rapid passages seems almost glib in their suave, even witty – in the final movement – realization.
Disc Two competes most literally with transfers made for the Pristine Audio label, whose X-R process has refined away the intrusive surface noise on early electrical recordings. The most obvious item, the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, in two versions, features a broader approach in the first two movements with Long and conductor Georges Tzipine from 1952. As has been pointed out, Long’s desire to maintain an unbroken cantabile in the second movement Adagio assai compelled her in 1932 (under Pedro de Freitas Branco) to strict time, loosened in the later, broader reading with Tzipine. Long recorded the two Debussy Arabesques on 10 July 1930, deftly fingering and pedaling the works most persuasively. The E Major is all liquid and hints of moonlight that made it the motto for the film Portrait of Jennie. The second from Long has a muscular sensibility, though even its canon is lightly inflected. The Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes (12 November 1929) calls our attention to the sheer speed of execution. From 6 November 1929 Long delivers a staid, even demure, La plus que lente, a nostalgic evocation of La Belle Epoque.
The fifteen minutes, collectively, of the music of Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) serve as Long’s concession to “modernity” in this set. The compact 1931 Piano Concerto No. 1 with the composer (5-6 April 1935) gives us the longest of three sessions in that year devoted to his music; the two, small solo works were set down 10 May 1935. The works enjoy a sophisticated, sometimes brash, boulevardier nonchalance and glibness of manner. The idiom, eminently approachable, passes in gracious, colorful panoply decidedly to Long’s cosmopolitan taste.
Marguerite Long, Vol. 2 =
Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49;
Mazurka in F# Minor, Op. 59/3;
Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 64/3;
Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 70/3;
Barcarolle in F# Major, Op. 60;
Berceuse in D-flat Major, Op. 57;
Fantasy-Impromptu in C# Minor, Op. 66;
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31;
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21;
Piano Concerto in G Major (two recordings);
Jardins sous la pluie; La plus que lente;
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 137;
Paysandu from Saudades do Brasil, Op. 67/12;
Alfama from L’Automne, Op. 115/2
Orchestra Conductors for Piano Concertos:
Pedro de Freitas Branco