I think it would be
rather spoiling the biographical fun
to be gained by reading the liner lines
to repeat too many of the facts here.
But it remains true that Madeleine de
Valmalète had a remarkable career
and indeed a remarkable life, as befits
a woman who was born in 1899 and died
on the threshold of the twenty first
century. As with so many distinguished
French pianists she was a pupil of Isidor
Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire.
Saint-Saëns admired her playing
and she was soon giving local premieres
– MacDowell’s First Concerto for instance.
She was a member of the Trio de Paris
with violinist Yvonne Astruc (splendid
player, more re-issues to be hoped for)
and cellist Marguerite Caponsacchi.
And in 1928 she went into the recording
studios for the first time – in Berlin.
Her repertoire was wide – from Bach
to Milhaud and Prokofiev – though in
later years she was immersed more in
teaching at the École Normale
de Musique, an invitation extended by
Cortot. Despite her teaching commitments
she did continue concert engagements,
though increasingly confining herself
to her native country. In her mid seventies
she recorded the Chopin Ballades – though
these were unissued – and in her early
eighties she ventured the Liszt B minor
in concert. Nothing daunted when she
was ninety-three she was taped in the
Mozart performances included here and
her death occurred as recently as 1999.
Truly a remarkable life.
The performances thankfully
are no less compelling. The 1928 Polydor
discs are all here. So are private recordings
from 1961 and from 1992. The most significant
of all the discs is the first ever recording
of Le Tombeau de Couperin. On
this evidence I think of her Ravel rather
as I think of George Copeland’s recordings
of Debussy – crisp, rhythmically
incisive and mercurial. They stand at
a profound tangent from the foggy School
of Gieseking (beautiful though that
School is), as indeed does Copeland’s
Debussy. There’s clarity, evenness of
articulation and incision in the Prelude,
and a refusal to be seduced by the pedal
as well as a playful darting, alert
and whimsical but very articulate Fugue
– contrast with Gieseking’s 1954 limpid
and patrician moderato. Her Forlane
is elfin and treble orientated; Gieseking’s
is pawkier and more earnest. And the
Rigaudon finds her turning corners with
great alacrity; contrast and characterisation
are paramount. In all this is a fascinating
document showing, once again, how urgent
and dynamic performances of Debussy
and Ravel were in the first third of
the twentieth century.
The remainder of the
1928 sessions see some ingenious textual
emendations in her performances, though
she always keeps within strict stylistic
bounds in such as the de Falla, which
is despatched with élan and ebullience.
Other standouts are the brilliantly
exciting Prokofiev and the fierce virtuosity
of her Debussy.
The 1961 Fauré
performances make their first appearances
here. The Nocturne is attractive though
less compelling than a 1956 performance
by French contemporary Germaine Thyssens-Valentin.
Occasionally de Valmalète’s rhythm
is not quite steady enough and though
the finger slips are trivial there’s
a want of real intimacy. Over thirty
years later she was taped in Mozart,
where she proves indomitable and nimble-fingered.
Slips are neither here nor there and
the playing retains a clarity and surety
that is astounding in a ninety-three
year old. There’s no trace of another
contemporary Marcelle Meyer’s almost
hectoring drama in Mozart – not that
Meyer’s is necessarily a bad interpretative
viewpoint – but there is a lot of freshness
and command in de Valmalète’s
So, splendid notes,
an unjustly overlooked musician and
rare recordings. The transfers of the
Polydors have retained a relatively
high level of surface noise. Ears will
filter it out and hear the treble colours,
as well as studio "presence."
There’s a brief moment of tape instability
in the Fauré Nocturne. The Mozarts
are privately recorded but in fine sound.
Altogether a distinguished release.