are absolutely indispensable recordings for piano collectors – but
there’s a dilemma. APR has on its books the complete recordings
of Saint-Saëns and Chaminade. It’s also recently
added a fourth volume in its Piano G & T series [APR5534]
which includes all the solo Louis
Diémer recordings contained in this Symposium, and adding
discs by Ilona Eibenschutz (Scarlatti and Brahms, London
1903), Josef Hofmann (a series of sides, Berlin 1903) and
a run of London 1908 discs made by Wilhelm Backhaus. This
confuses things to a considerable degree but the bottom line
is that you will need to possess them in some form or other.
question with regard to these French performers may seem
therefore a stark one; Symposium or APR transfers? But once
again, it’s not so simple. The Symposium, one notes, is not quite complete
with respect to Saint-Saëns. He made a recording of
the Havanaise with violinist Gabriel
Willaume [037922-23] which is not here for reasons of space,
but which is in APR’s set. At eight minutes and containing
a wealth of detail this is a significant document; it’s also
significant for those interested in the composer’s musical
associates and in performance practice – so its omission
is regrettable and might just tip the scales if you don’t
have it in another form.
performances however offer a plethora of things to excite,
intrigue and amuse. Both Saint-Saëns and Chaminade
were finger technicians, in their own ways, of the utmost
clarity and brilliance.
The verve and dynamism of their playing is spellbinding and
Thus Saint-Saëns’s Valse
mignonne – especially the 1904
recording; he remade it in 1919 - is a vivid example of
his nonchalant brilliance and colouristic palette. The
varnish and command of the excerpts from his own Second
Concerto – important pointers toward authorial projection,
naturally – vie with the truncated Rhapsodie
d'Auvergne for executant scintillation.
The sense of energy and brio is palpable in all his sides.
He’s a veritable
genius of the keyboard and even in the lightest of these
essentially light selections his allure is visceral. His
colleague the mezzo Meyrianne Héglon proves rather too indomitable in her selections
of the vocal music. The voice has perceptible registral
breaks and the lower part comes perilously close to crossing
the Channel in search of Clara Butt. Gabriel
Willaume plays with Gallic sensibility – an essentially
vibrato-pure performer without undue mannerisms.
Chaminade’s recordings were made slightly earlier, in 1901.
There are seven sides. The Air de Ballet belies its
rather academically sedate name with the kind of level of
panache and vigour that, even over a hundred years later,
fully take away one’s breath. La Lisonjera may well
be on the skittish side of the salon repertoire but its composer
tosses it off with incomparable ease and vivacious wit. And
so it goes for all her selection.
Diémer platys two of his own sweetmeats but was better known
as an executant. The five sides here were made when he was
in his very early sixties, in 1904. His own Chant du nautonier is
a rather meretricious etude-like affair but is played with
the same kind of brilliance that informs the musicianship
of his disc mates. His Godard is vivacious though his Chopin
is rather reserved and over-fleet of finger.
essential items for your specialist pianophile shelves. APR’s
notes are rather better than Symposium’s and. Symposium’s
transfers are rather noisier and scuffier than APR’s. They
also have rather more blasting in fortes than the rival company.
They are however somewhat more immediate and allow one to
hear with clarity, through their non-interventionist approach,
the roll-call of pianism on display. Whichever you decide
to acquire you will have a cornerstone collection at your
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Editor in Chief