Testament SBT 1401, 66:53 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:
Several times characterized as “a great, unsung French pianist,” Germain Thyssens-Valentin (1902-1987) maintains a limited reputation from a number of recordings she made with the Ducretet-Thomson label, mostly of her beloved composer Faure. Having studied with Isadore Philipp and Jeanne-Marie Darre, Thyssens-Valentin evolved her own piano sound, less brittle and distinctly more rounded than many French keyboardists. Listening to her play the F-sharp Minor Adagio from the A Major Concerto by Mozart (rec. 1953), we might well think of that other excellent Mozart acolyte, Clara Haskil. Thyssens-Valentin performs the movement as a slowly evolving, elegant siciliana in the form of an outdoor cassation for piano, strings, horns, and woodwinds. If inwardness and poetry mark this realization of Mozart’s music, then Thyssen-Valentin plays Mozart as if he were Schumann. Paumgartner provides his own sparks in the Allegro assai finale, courtesy of the wonderful bassoon riffs and lithe sting execution. Thyssens-Valentin sports a lithe, light pair of hands that do not lack for power when she wants it. Long-breathed phrasings, arched trills, and piercing attacks make for visceral Mozart in anyone’s book.
Debussy’s haunting suite En blanc et noir (1915) for two pianos was recorded by Thyssens-Valentin and Manchon-Thais in the last days of June, 1955. Delicate in an otherworldly sense, with modal colorations and bluesy passing harmonies, the piece embodies Debussy’s increasing fascination with abstract forms as he neared the end of his life. The second section Lent (somber) more than once hints, in an oriental way, at Ravel’s Le Gibet from Gaspard de la Nuit. Military airs wander through the textures, vainglorious, tragic, ambiguously spasmodic. The Scherzando has both pianists creating a combination of musical eddies and inexorable marches, both skittish and brazen. A grisly homage to the devastation of war, in striking pedal effects, permeates Berceuse heroique, the cold harmonies akin to several of Debussy’s late etudes. The little Mazurka is rather heavy-handed, more like a Grieg dance than a Chopin evocation.
The Faure group opens with some deft pedal and wrist articulation for three Songs Without Words, the composer’s tribute to Mendelssohn. A high, clear melodic line defines the first of the triptych. The A Minor has a breathless, impatient quality, again with Mendelssohn’s throbbing, harmonized undercurrent, a glittery finish. The A-flat Major song that concludes the set might have been lifted right out of Mendelssohn‚s Op. 19, here with a touch of habanera rhythm. Faure’s only mazurka makes several curtsies at Chopin, along with homage to Schumann’s Prophet Bird. Idiosyncratically hypnotic, the piece pays equal tribute to its conjurer, a pianist with whom many collectors ought to reckon among the luminaries of Gallic art.
— Gary Lemco