Marius-Francois Gaillard: Complete Debussy Recordings 1928-1930 – Works by Ravel, Faure [complete list of pieces below] – Marius-Francois Gaillard, piano/ Carmen Guilbert, piano – APR 6025 (2 CDs) 73:10; 76:23 (1/4/19) [Distr. By Naxos] ****:

Recorded 1928-1930, these recordings of piano music by Claude Debussy by Marius-Francois Gaillard (1900-1973) return to us by way of Mark Obert-Thorn, who assembles what at the time had been the largest body of Debussy piano repertory on disc prior to WW II. The reissue coincides with the 2018 centenary of the composer’s birth, and it reveals a dry, literalist style much in contrast with the more impressionistic approach from Walter Gieseking, whose 1950s recordings would somewhat usurp Gaillard’s contribution.   Deft and transparent finger work well defines the Gaillard’s interpretations, which like quick tempos. The sonority remains supple and plastic, suavely fluid in the rhythmic flux, especially in Arabesque No. 1 in E (22 March 1928) and the Reflets dans l’eau (20 July 1928), where an exotic sensibility achieves an erotic patina.  The bell-tone staccatos and strummed-guitar effects of La soiree dans Grenade enjoy a frothy energy, the sensuous nocturne’s proceeding in broad periods. The performance of the piano monument from Y’s, La Cathedrale engloutie (22 November 1928), reminds me of the interpretation by another famed student of Louis Diemer, Robert Casadesus, though Gaillard’s touch seems more crisp and detached. Perhaps more of a curio, the 1890 Ballade, originally entitled Ballade slave, invokes through variation a Russian water-world, much in the manner of Liadov. Several of the harmonies point to the orchestral tone-poem Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

The recordings from 1929 begin with the “Prelude” from Pour le piano (28 January 1929), which invokes a small toccata or test-piece pregnant with glistening runs and fateful, whole-tone block chords. The remainder of the suite, “Sarabande” and “Toccata,” respectively, communicate an intimate “Javanese” sense of sound, parlando, in the style of Satie’s 1887 piece of the same name.  The final movement, however, rings with exuberantly light energy, nobly alert and thoroughly transparent. The scale passages proceed like silver pearls, and the melodic line unfolds pure legato. As the music assumes more rhythmic aggression, the tricky agogics trouble Gaillard not at all, and he adds a militant dimension to this dazzling display piece.  From April 5 we may savor Gaillard in four of the Preludes, Book I: Delphic Dancers, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, Interrupted Serenade, and Minstrels.  His pedaling not so intricate as that of Gieseking in Dancers, Gaillard still imparts their exotic grace and plastic ephemerality. The plain-chant allure of La fille unfolds in suave parlando, pointed and balanced in smoothly arched phrases. The quirky filigree of the Interrupted Serenade bears a decidedly Spanish lilt, but the poor guitar plays suffers interruptions, masterfully executed. The precision of the performance seems worthy of Ravel the musician. The jazzy-bluesy Minstrels moves with “careless” aplomb, its second half a mock-militant layering of tunes and percussive effects.

The 1930 series opens with Debussy’s Mazurka (3 February 1930), more of the music-hall than the salon.  Its open fifth alerts us that folk influences pervade the impish piece and its brief, dotted rhythm, but the national identity does not appear Polish. Rather, the 1890 work seems a sweet parody, a Scherzando in B minor that wants to be F-sharp Minor, but whose melancholy may not be quite sincere.La plus que lente (1910) provides Gaillard more fodder for parody, this the Romantic, 19th Century waltz style. Spare pedal and rubato keep the Gaillard motion consistent, while the sudden modulations and dissonances, receiving their due, pinch our ears as to the novelty of Debussy’s effects. Is it possible to hold tied notes on the piano?  Perhaps Debussy wished for the pianist to envy a violin partner, if one were available. Inspired by a postcard of “The Moorish Gate of Wine,” La Puerta del Vino from Preludes, Book II, abounds in parallel chords, exotically hued by Flamenco habanera rhythm but interrupted by guitar strumming and sudden, passionate (cante jondo) outbursts. General Lavine – Eccentric celebrates an American clown and entertainer, Edward Lavine, a forerunner of Charlie Chaplin.  The General executes a cakewalk, tumbles, and pirouettes to hints of “Camptown Races.” Arthur Rackham had illustrated the legend of Ondine, the water nymph, as told by the writer Fouque, published in 1912. Gaillard performs the prelude on 6 June 1930, evoking the eddied waters from which the nymph rises in search of a husband to claim his soul.  Her fruitless quest calls for alternations of touch and tempo, even a wispy dance, that all vanish in a quicksilver mix of illuminated waves. Debussy’s fondness for the work of Charles Dickens inspires Hommage a S. Pickwick, with its D Major triplets and intimations of “God Save the King. Pickwick goes whistling down the lane, pompously oblivious to those around him: not such a rare event, in our own self-absorbed era.

Disc 2 opens with Gaillard’s rendition of Masques (1904), a demanding, Iberian piece that fuses disparate keyboard styles, especially influenced by the paintings of Watteau.  Rhythms and colors merge in startling, angular patterns, vital and palpitating in its almost relentless tension. Gaillard infuses the work with “Eastern” effects, as if pagodas were easily within our purview. So, naturally enough, Pagodes from the collection Estampes (1903) ensues, in which the black notes invoke a pentatonic scale whose Javanese roots vibrate with gamelan and mellophone effects.  Gaillard manipulates the two and four-bar phrases so that within the fluid motion a sense of repose exists, marked presque sans nuance.  The Valse romantique (1890), first revealed to me by Gieseking, pays distinct homage to Chabrier, with its joyous indulgence in contrary motions between the hands in various voicings. Gaillard gives it an aggressive, melodious allure. Gaillard’s contribution closes with 23 October 1930 extended excerpt from Suite bergamasque, which lacks the final Passepied, due to fiscal constraints from the Depression.  Gaillard’s sec approach imposes clarity and rive on the arabesques and block chords of the first movement Prelude.  The slow, staid approach to the Menuet grants the movement dignity, staid poetry, and girth.  Gaillard’s contribution concludes with Clair de lune, appropriately filled with pregnant pauses and a pedal technique that clarifies rather than distorts the shimmering, liquid textures.

The remainder of the set devotes itself to the Debussy recorded by Carmen-Marie-Lucie Guilbert (1906-1964), a pupil of Marguerite Long and Joseph Morpain, the latter a student of Gabriel Faure.  Her opening Minstrels (c. 1931) enjoys a light touch and a restrained pedal technique. She makes Bruyeres purr in a way unique to this listener, a parlando that easily flows forward seamlessly. The Sarabande from Pour le piano conveys poise, clarity, and spaciousness, with sensitive adjustments to harmonic-rhythm.  The Toccata from Pour le piano exudes facility and secure dexterity, though her tone seems less voluptuous than that of Moiseiwitsch in this piece. Her strong suit, the music of Faure, has five sturdy examples, included the first recording of the 1895 Theme and Variations in C-sharp minor, Op. 73 (19 January 1938).  This knotty work, a martial tune and eleven variations, owes much to Schumann’s Op. 13 Symphonic Etudes.  Guilbert holds the threads together, moving in the spirit of a Bach invention that takes its own harmonic course into strange venues.

Guilbert’s swift rendering of Faure’s Impromptu No. 2 in F minor, Op. 31 (c. 1933) allies Faure to the plastic spirit of Chabrier. Barcarolle No. 6 in E-flat Major, Op. 70 combines water filigree, Chopin’s etude style, and Faure’s idiosyncratic, modal harmony. The wistful Nocturne No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 33, No. 3 (8 February 1938) gains passionate force combined with poetic ecstasy from Guilbert.  The expansive Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 63 (26 November 1936) clearly pays debts to Chopin, but its structure, flying sixteenth notes, counterpoint, and occasional harmonic excursions in modality—seconds and parallel sevenths—nod to Schumann while retaining Faure’s own flights of fancy. The last piece of the recital, the Ravel Alborada del gracioso from Miroirs (22 November 1934) must, perforce, cede to Lipatti the greater technical audacity, but that does not discount Guilbert’s lightning fingers and pertly suave attacks. Guilbert creates a richly potent atmosphere that tingles with erotic expectation and glistening excitement.

DEBUSSY:
Jardins sous la pluie;
Reverie
Deux Arabesques
Reflets dand l’eau
La soiree dans Grenade
La Cathedrale engloutie
Ballade
Pour le piano
Danseuses des Delphes
La fille aux cheveux de lin
La serenade interrompue
Minstrels
Mazurka
La plus que lente
La pierta del Vino
General Lavine
Ondine
Hommage a S. Pickwick, Esq.
Mazurka
Pagodes
Valse romantique
Suite Bergamasque – excerpts
Bruyères
Sarabande & Toccata

FAURE:
Impromptu No. 2 in F minor
Barcarolle No. 6 in E-flat
Nocturne No. 3 in A-flat
 Nocturne No. 6 in D-flat
Theme and Variations, Op. 73

RAVEL:
Alborada del gracioso

–Gary Lemco