Marguerite Long, Vol. I: Fauré and D’Indy [complete listing appended] – Marguerite Long, piano – APR 6038 (2 CDs. 74:31; 80:33) (2/2022) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
To refer consistently to French pianist Marguerite Long (1874-1966) as the “foremost female pianist in France of the 20th century” rather diminishes her status as an artist of brilliant, colored articulation and suavely clean, long lines that always conveyed the structure and contour of the music she addressed. Long’s fruitful and persuasive association with the music of Gabriel Fauré on record, well documented in this APR collation assembled by Mark Obert-Thorn, 1930-1957, came about through an adverse 1902 criticism made by Long’s future husband, aristocrat and musicologist Joseph de Marliave (1873-1914), who felt that Long’s ignorance of Fauré’s oeuvre prevented her ever becoming a musician. Long first played for the composer in 1903; by 1904 she was performing the Piano Quartet No. 1 in public with Fauré’s turning pages! That Long had mastered this body of keyboard repertory in fine textures has testimony here in the several genres representing the breadth of composer and performer. If Long’s piano tone lacks the luster of Robert Casadesus or the volatile fire of Monique La Brouchollerie, her classical restraint renders any score in its pristine intentions.
Obert-Thorn frames the two discs of this collation with Fauré’s Ballade in F-sharp Major for Piano and Orchestra, recorded, respectively, in 1930 and 1950. Dedicated to Camille Saint-Saens, the piece blends a pastoral innocence with sudden intrusions of audacious harmony, mesmerizing and hazy melodic arcs, and pre-impressionist sensibility. The 1950 version with Cluytens is posed in the same terms as in 1930, but with slightly broader strokes. It was the 1896 Sixth Barcarolle in E-flat Major, Op. 70 that occupied the music stand in 1903 in the composer’s apartment at Long’s fateful visit, and the two recordings, from 1937 and 1957, maintain the almost elfin liquidity of the piece, though the latter rendition has gained in sonority and shades of resonance. The 1885 Barcarolle No. 2 in G Major, Op. 41 (rec. 15 March 1957) reveals the composer’s Continental ambitions, moving in 6/8 figures Italianate, but no less indebted to Saint-Saens (in the 9/8 section) and Wagner. Long’s colorful realization well indicates the panoply of sounds to which both creator and interpreter had access.
The second of Fauré’s five impromptus, that in F# Minor (1883), receives also two readings, from 1933 and 1957, and moves in fleet, swirling triplets in tarantella rhythm. The Chopin influence remains strong, especially in the sense of defined, formal balance. The 1909 Impromptu No. 5 in F# Minor, Op. 102 (rec. 13 July 1933) displays Long’s dazzling bravura in a most Debussy-like onrush of whole-tone harmonies. Alfred Cortot found the 1884 Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 36 “languorous,” and Long’s recording (19 May 1937) captures the gossamer threads of arpeggios and liquid scales against the tolling, tranquil bell in E-flat Minor. The 1894 Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63 at first echoes Chopin’s D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2, but here the scope proves more expansive. Syncopations and enharmonic development (into C# Minor) define a work that soon exits Chopin’s world and announces its own ethos. Long (rec. 21 and 23 July 1936) projects the works’ emotionally ardent expressivity, close to the feelings expressed in La bonne chanson. Storm and consolation strike an effective balance in a performance of lasting value.
The solo piano cycle ends with a collaboration with soprano Ninon Vallin in Les berceaux, Op. 23, No. 1 (rec. 12 June 1933), an amazing invocation of love and sadness, as ships leave the harbor bearing the regret of abandoned cradles and weeping women. This fusion of barcarolle and cradle song in B-flat Minor, with the demanding tessitura for Vallin, from a low A-flat to high F, marks a master of the song form in Fauré, certainly a rival to Schubert for concision of means and transition within the three parts of the text.
Disc one ends with the 24-25 May 1934 recording of D’Indy’s popular Symphony on a French Mountain Air (1886), the three-part “concerto” that takes its cue from a folk song native to the Cévannes mountains. For my money, three pianists have established a hegemony in this airy, brilliant work: Marguerite Long, Robert Casadesus, and Grant Johannesen. Despite Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer’s association with the work, I find more in her conductor, Charles Munch, than that in her playing, per se. In Long’s case, the orchestral support provided by master Paul Paray (1886-1979) and the Colonne Orchestra invokes wide vistas rife with faraway energies. The keyboard part, fundamentally made up of cascading arpeggios, becomes subsumed as an obbligato color into this Symphony. The uncredited English horn player and harpist add to the luster of the first movement, while Long’s etched, moto-perpetuo, staccato line in the last movement makes a bravura foil to the contemplative mood of the slow second movement.
Disc Two gives us, with the aforementioned Ballade, Long’s work in chamber music, of which her 10 May 1940 collaboration with Jacques Thibaud, Maurice Vieux, and Pierre Fournier in the 1887 G Minor Piano Quartet represents her only wartime recording, made the day the Nazis invaded Belgium and Holland. The sweet plasticity of Thibaud’s tone warrants the price of admission. Bewitching in its modal harmonies, variation technique, learned counterpoint, and cyclic economies, the quartet still remains less famous than the 1883 C Minor Quartet, but the rewards await anyone, in abundance. Long’s subtle coloring in the first movement, Allegro molto moderato, subdued and refined, blends masterfully with that of her colleagues. Anyone who savors brilliant ensemble will relish the Allegro molto scherzo, with Long’s steady figurations in harmony with quick pizzicato in the strings in minor harmony. For the Adagio molto, Long joins viola Maurice Vieux in an atmosphere of spiritual repose. Thibaud and Fournier add a decisive luster to a spacious, poetic moment, nine minutes of transcendent beauty. The finale, Allegro molto, besides its splendid ensemble, represents a new, “symphonic” color in Fauré, a thrusting, impassioned, motor power and dramatic emphasis almost Wagnerian in scope and resonance, more of Franck in its athletic sense of variations and sweeping coda, based on the opening motifs of the first movement.
For sixteen years, Marguerite Long recorded no solo music by Gabriel Fauré, finally joining the Pasquier Trio on 13 February 1956 for the session devoted to the Piano Quartet in C Minor. The work itself bears the hallmarks of the composer’s refined style, especially in the keyboard’s use of moody arpeggios and broken figures to weave sinuous, melodic tissue in bathed counterpoint, reliant on modal harmony. The opening movement, in sonata form, Allegro molto appassionato, moves from a unison statement into embroidered melody that Pierre Pasquier, viola, introduces, soon caressed between Long’s piano and Jean Pasquier’s violin. The entire movement undulates in seamless ensemble, colored by individual strings as they enter into ardent dialogue with the keyboard.
The Scherzo: Allegro vivo in 6/8 projects flair and magically modal color effect. After six measures of pizzicato, Long enters with single notes in three-bar phrases. The muted strings of the Trio section, along with the shifts in meter between 6/8 and 2/4, wrest out a nervous excitement that quite sweeps us along to the deft da capo. A melancholy thoroughly typical of Fauré ensues, marked Adagio ma non troppo. Set in ternary form, the music features the distinctive sound of the two lower strings, the cello part realized by Étienne Pasquier. Rising scale fragments define the elegy as such, often diaphanous and haunted in the style of a meditative nocturne. The cyclic principle refined by César Franck dictates the course of the last movement, Allegro molto, combining its dramatic intensity with the rhythmic scheme of the opening movement and the Scherzo’s rising scale shape. Both Long and viola Pierre Pasquier bound in full tilt, with resonant bass contributions from the cello. This music’s capacity for Romantic suasion and passion was not lost on writer Marcel Proust, who wrote to the composer a gushing declaration: “I love nothing, I admire nothing, I adore nothing except your music. I have been and am again in love with it.” Had Proust survived to audition this classic rendering of the C Minor Piano Quartet, it would have received pre-eminence on his record shelf.
Marguerite Long, Vol. I: Fauré and D’Indy
with Ninon Vallin, soprano/ Pasquier Trio/ Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Philippe Gaubert and André Cluytens/ Jacques Thibaud, violin/ Maurice Vieux, viola/ Pierre Fournier, cello/ Orchestre du Concerts Colonne/ Paul Paray
Ballade for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19 (two versions);
Barcarolle No. 6 in E-flat Major, Op. 70 (two versions);
Impromptu No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 31 (two versions);
Nocturne No. 5 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 102;
Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat Major, Op. 36;
Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63;
Impromptu No. 2 in G Major, Op. 41;
Les berceaux, Op. 23, No. 1;
Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 15;
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45;
Symphonie sur un Chant montagnard Français, Op. 25 –