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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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MARCEL CIAMPI (piano) and YVONNE ASTRUC (violin)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor Op. 45 (1886-87)
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Piano Quintet in F minor (1878-79)
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La Cathédrale engloutie; Preludes Book I (1910)
Lili BOULANGER (1893-1918)

Introduction et cortège (1914)
Nocturne (1911)
Yvonne Astruc (violin)
Marcel Ciampi (piano)
Capet Quartet in the Franck
Nadia Boulanger (piano) in the two Boulanger works
Recorded 1927-31
MALIBRAN CDRG 115 [72.09]


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It’s appropriate that these two significant French musicians’ names should be linked together because they married in 1920. Of the two it’s Ciampi who had the more internationally known career, latterly having a raft of distinguished pupils – Loriod, Ousset and three Menuhins (Hephzibah, Jeremy and Yaltah) amongst many. He was a student of Diemer at the Paris Conservatoire and was one of the pianists who was most linked with the venerable and leading French Quartet, the Capet. Astruc is less well known, at least in the Anglo-Saxon world, though she did make an early foray to Queen’s Hall when Henry ("Henri" in the notes) Wood brought her over. She was born in 1889 and was two years younger than her husband. He died in 1980 but I’ve nowhere been able to find her year of death. As a ranking player in the French school she falls chronologically between Thibaud and Francescatti but as her discs display hers was an entirely different temperament from the sensuous elegance of the former or the scintillating brio of the latter.

If we know Astruc at all it’s through her recording of Milhaud’s Concerto de printemps – a composer-conducted set from 1935. And in fact her discography is small. She did record another major concerto; the Bach in A, with an unnamed band conducted by Bret but it’s hardly received much currency in the intervening seventy years or so. Titbits saw out the rest – the usual fiddle fancier’s sweetmeats of Gluck, Kreisler, Nardini and Novacek. Not much of a return but plenty of players of her generation made no commercial recordings at all (where are the discs of the Australian Alma Moodie or the peripatetic Englishwoman Orrea Pernel who fought for the Delius Concerto and turned up at Prades, where, admittedly, she was taped live?). Astruc discloses an equable, unruffled but essentially small-scale personality in the Grieg Sonata. Ciampi is inclined to be a little hard rhythmically from time to time (the opening chord has unfortunately been chopped very slightly in the transfer) and Astruc’s precise but rather small tone, although very nicely equalized in the best French string tradition, is not overburdened with opulent projection. Her trills are quite slow as well. Her expressive and athletic portamenti in the Romanza are enticing and even if Ciampi is inclined to over-pedal, her quite slow vibrato isn’t one that requires dramatic, theatrical projection. She doesn’t go in for evocative or lubricious finger position changes, preferring a more discreet musicality, a cool one, more Zimbalist than Seidel, and she abjures glistening emotiveness at all times. Prim? Well, maybe. What I found more problematical was a lack of tone colour in her playing – it’s all a bit one-dimensional. In the finale she again, of course, prefers direct lyricism to abandoned romanticism and if that’s how you take your Grieg in C minor then you will welcome her somewhat aloof refinement. It certainly makes a marked change from bombastic blood and guts in this sonata.

Ciampi reappears in the slightly earlier recording of the Franck Quintet in which he is on splendid form, technically and expressively. This is one of the great performances of the work, eclipsing in my view the Cortot/International Quartet recording and standing at an entirely discrete stylistic remove from later traversals, even from those securely in the French tradition (such as Descaves and the Bouillon Quartet or that by the Chailley-Richez Quintet) or by, say, Schmitz and the Roth Quartet from outside that immediate school. I daresay many readers will not have heard the Capet and will suffer the experience of Yehudi Menuhin who, when he first heard them in Paris, apparently – so he says – ran screaming from the hall appalled by their senza vibrato aesthetic. It is nevertheless enormously enriching to hear them – they were at the furthermost point from the Lener Quartet at the time, I suppose, one blanched white, the other saturated in warmth. The spectral intimacies of the work have seldom sounded so full of despair, Capet’s venerable austerity so magnificent.

It’s good to hear Astruc and Nadia Boulanger in the two pieces by Lili Boulanger. The Introduction is played with a rather tenser vibrato than she revealed in the Grieg and in the Nocturne she plays with freewheeling chastity. Malibran are proving to be truffle hunters extraordinaire when it comes to now forgotten French musicians of the inter-war years. I’ll do a deal with them; I won’t mention the English translation in the booklet (oh dear) if they release the following; Gabriel Bouillon’s Pathé discs and – let’s chance it anyway – the fantastically rare 1906 Zonophones of Jules Boucherit, doyen of French fiddlers. Gentlemen?

Jonathan Woolf

 



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