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Three French Pianists
1. Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Improvised cadenza on Afrique – suite for piano and orchestra Op.89 [2:47]
Valse mignonne Op.104 [2:37]
Valse nonchalante Op.110 [3:14]
Piano Concerto No.2 in G Op.22 – extracts [3:57]
Rhapsodie d'Auvergne Op.73 [2:28]
Ascanio - Air of Scozzone [2:28]
Rêverie [3:08]
La Solitaire (Mélodie Persane) [2:25]
Samson et Dalila - Printemps qui commence [3:37]
Le Déluge - Prelude Op.45 [3:31]
Elégie Op.143 [4:29]
Première Mazurka Op.21 [2:59]
Rêverie du soir à Blidah (Suite Algérienne Op.60/3) [3:48]
Marche militaire française (Suite Algérienne Op.60/4) [3:41]
Valse mignonne Op.104 [2:23]
Camille Saint-Saëns (piano) with
Gabriel Willaume (violin)
Meyrianne Héglon (mezzo-soprano)
rec. 1904 and 1919
2. Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944) 
Air de Ballet Op.30 [2:53]
Pas des Écharpes (Callirhoe Op.37) [1:38]
Courante (Danse ancienne Op.95/3) [1:23]
Les Sylvains Op.60 [2:20]
Danse Créole Op.94 [2:14]
L'Enjoleuse – La Lisonjera Op.50 [2:47]
Pierrette Op.41 [2:33]
Cecile Chaminade (piano)
rec. 1901
Grande Valse de concert in D flat Op.37 [2:31]
Chant du nautonier [3:15]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)

Valse chromatiqyue [3:09]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs without Words – No.34 in C major Op.67/4 La Fileuse [1:45]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in D flat Op.27/2 [3:49]
Louis Diémer (piano)
rec. 1904
SYMPOSIUM 1305 [77:34]

These 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.
The 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.
The 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 scintillating.
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.   
Cecile 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.
Louis 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. 
So, 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 fingertips.
Jonathan Woolf


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