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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, Op 21 (1829) [33:50]
Barcarolle in F sharp major Op.60 [9:48]
Mazurkas - Op.30 No.3 [2:49]; Op.41 No.3 [1:17]; Op.24 No.6 [4:20]
Nocturnes - Op.27 No.1 [6:27]; Op.15 No.1 [4:59]
Interview with Youra Guller in 1958 [3:14]
Youra Guller (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Edmond Appia
rec. live, 10 June 1959 (concerto); 1962 (Barcarolle and the Mazurkas), 1975 (Nocturnes)
TAHRA TAH630 [67:38]

Youra Guller’s biography is told at some length in Tahra’s notes and a remarkable, compelling story it is.  She was born in 1895 in Marseilles. Her father was Russian and her mother Romanian and at twelve she entered the Paris Conservatoire where she studied under Isidore Philipp. Clara Haskil, who was in Cortot’s class, was a contemporary. After graduating she made the acquaintance of Milhaud and performed his music, and that of the other members of Les Six, as well as specialising in Chopin and toured widely. She fled Paris in 1941 and returned to Marseilles where she met Haskil and her sister Jeanne. Guller seems to have been responsible for aiding Clara Haskil’s escape, though as Guller was herself a Jew she was in particular danger.  She was ill for some time – living in Shanghai it’s said or maybe Bali for eight years -before resuming her career in 1955. She returned to London in that year and travelled to New York in 1971 to play at a recital in Carnegie Hall. Martha Argerich admired her and Nimbus recorded her in the studios in 1975. Perhaps typically, given the shrouded and sometimes fugitive nature of her life, the exact date of her death seems to be in some confusion; 1980 or 1981, and the location Geneva, Paris or London. Though surely this can be resolved easily enough.
The performances here date from these later years. The earliest in the 1959 live performance of the Concerto; the others date from 1962 and 1975. Guller is said to have suffered a crisis of confidence in the post-war years and surely the punishing nature of her life took its toll of her technique. I sense her compromised technique is at the root of the problems in the F minor. The left hand accompanying figures sound mechanical and unvaried tonally and dynamically. Allied to this is a certain poker- faced approach to the drama which is not interested in projecting overtly refined pianism in the outer movements. The slow movement however is a considerable improvement – warmer in tone, and more naturally phrased, if still a little aloof. One feels that tempo concerns have been lifted and that Guller feels unfettered. In the finale one feels her playing safe at a more manageable tempo for her. She’s certainly not helped by the Suisse Romande who are in very poor form throughout with regrettable sounding winds, and a lot of out-of-tune playing.
The Barcarolle doesn’t really come to life. She displays a rather beautiful if confined tone in the slower sections – evidence of what she must have been capable of when in her prime – but in the more dramatic sections she is hidebound and restricted by her technique once more. The Op.27 No.1 Nocturne is poetically nourished in part but lacks the spring and wit in its central passage, which once more reveals that the years have taken their toll on her. There’s a three-minute snippet of an interview with her in French (no translation), which was given in 1958.
Given the foregoing this must be considered something of a specialist undertaking, even amongst pianophiles, though one that alerts us once more to a rather extraordinary life and art.
Jonathan Woolf


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