Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Blanche Selva (1884-1942) (Piano)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Violin Sonata No. 3 in E – BWV 1016 – Adagio ma non troppo
Partita No. 1 in B flat BWV 825
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Op. 24 Spring
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Prélude, choral et fugue
Déodat de SÉVERAC (1872-1921)

Baigneuses au soleil
Cerdaña – No. 4 Les muletiers devant le Christ de Llivia
En Languedoc – No. 1 Vers le mas en fête
Blanche Selva (piano) with
Joan Massia (violin) in Bach’s Violin Sonata and the Spring Sonata
Recorded 1928 and 1930
MALIBRAN CDRG 177 [78.14]


Blanche Selva, one of the most revered of French pianists of her generation, made pitifully few recordings and even those were compressed into a two-year period. Her discography in fact amounts to no more than a mere eleven works, three of them in collaboration with the Catalan violinist Joan Massia (two of which Malibran present here). Six of the eleven were of works by Déodat de Séverac – who still retains a tentative toe in current discographic waters – two were by Bach, two by Franck and one by Beethoven. This is a small return for so important a figure but, accustomed to resurrecting leading figures of French inter-war life, Malibran has come to her rescue (and incidentally to Massia’s as well – there wasn’t room here for their Columbia set of the Franck Violin Sonata so maybe Malibran will include that in a forthcoming issue).

Trained at the Schola Cantorum, Selva was appointed by d’Indy himself as teacher at the early age of eighteen. In all she taught there for twenty years and was adventurous enough to add her own twist to the usual continental drift westwards of Czech musicians – Selva herself moving to Prague to teach (at around the time Martinů and so many others were off to Paris) and encountering Suk and Novák along the way. She was a front rank exponent of Albeniz, d’Indy himself (Malibran’s notes say that Selva “detached herself” from the Schola Cantorum in the early 1920s but I was under the impression that she and d’Indy fell out), Roussel and many others. She gave the complete Bach keyboard works as a cycle (beginning in Paris in 1904 and a number of times after) as she subsequently gave the complete "32" of Beethoven on several occasions. She settled in Catalonia in the mid-twenties but suffered a stroke shortly after making some of the discs to be heard here and from then her concert-giving days were over. She left Barcelona – where she had taught – after the Civil War and died pretty much forgotten in France in 1942.

Her Bach Partita is a precious souvenir of her playing. The Prelude is limpidity itself and the clarity and pointing of the stylish and apt Allemande truly impressive. Her chordal weighting in the Courante and her rather cool undemonstrative musicality all point to a major Bach player of the most august French school. The dynamics of the concluding Fugue are splendidly controlled and her throwaway ending insouciant in the extreme. If anything the Franck is even better and stands alongside the almost contemporaneous Cortot recording as twin poles of French School Franck interpretation. She plays the Prelude with exceptional understanding of line and depth of weight, a tremendous sense of clarity and a control that never precludes metrical freedom. The rolled chords of the Choral disclose a movement that is short neither on detail nor on affection; nothing however is unduly romanticised and everything is subordinated to acid architectural considerations. Hers is a deeply serious and affecting musicality – the finger slip at 4.35 unquestionably let through in the interests of heightened expressivity. The purposeful warmth of the Fugue is not compromised by unnecessary lingering; reminiscences of the second movement are all the more moving for their sheer unvarnished candour. Wonderful playing.

She was long a proponent of the music of the Languedoc-Provencal composer Déodat de Séverac and even wrote a biography of him. She revels in his fresh air impressionism – how elliptically she points the end of Baigneuses au soleil and how charmingly she vests Vers le mas en fête with such drama and such colour. To the mild exoticisms of Les muletiers devant le Christ de Llivia can be added Selva’s own virtuosity and flair for colouristic potential – and she somehow ties the work to its Franckian antecedents with the simplest of inflexions. She joins with Massia for the Bach movement from the third Violin Sonata. He has a rather thin tone, unwarmed by much vibrato, and his shifts sound surprisingly awkward. His trill is also inclined to be a bit rough and his whole musicality is profoundly old fashioned in the context of the day. Selva is quite a way back in the balance unfortunately. In the Spring Sonata one’s initial impressions of Massia are reinforced. He is inclined to be heavy going in the opening Allegro, slow and with unvaried and limited vibrato, prominent portamenti. Selva is once again somewhat occluded in the balance but we can still hear and admire her animated rhythm and her subtle bass pointing. The slow movement is reasonable but some of the jokey rhythms of the Scherzo are rather smoothed over and the finale is short on humour and elation – its soft grained nature co-exists with fine co-ordination between the two and Massia does essay some lightly textured bowing that is interesting to hear. On this showing however Massia was No. rival to the much more forward-looking tonalist and compatriot Manuel Quiroga – whose glinting, glittering morceaux discs rather put the antiquated Massia in the shade.

This is a prized disc. Selva’s small body of recordings is conspicuously important and we have a sizeable chunk here. For all my strictures Massia is an engaging and by no means unimportant figure in Catalan music making; his Franck Sonata with Selva conforms to the qualities and limitations expressed earlier but Malibran would do a great service in publishing it. I’d also never seen a picture of the obscure fiddler and courtesy of the booklet I’ve now seen two. To those whose prerequisites in French pianism of the 1920s are Cortot, Cortot and more Cortot (maybe with Lortat thrown in as a sop) I recommend this without reservation.

Jonathan Woolf

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