Inédits Youra Guller - Vol. II
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Etudes Symphoniques, op. 13 (1837) [23:49]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Op. 58 (1805/6) [34:53]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Iberia - Books I - IV; Triana (1905-08) [5:49]
Youra Guller (piano)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. May 1962 (Schumann); January 1958 (Beethoven) and April 1961 (Albéniz)
TAHRA TAH650 [64:58]

This is the welcome second volume in Tahra’s restorative exploration of the art of pianist Youra Guller. The first volume in the series gave me the opportunity briefly to reflect on her biography, and you can pursue the matter there if you like, but if you wish to be even more deeply enmeshed in her life and art you can also listen to the recordings contained in another Tahra disc, a new series of theirs devoted to French pianists: a fine one too.

One is aware that Guller has her detractors. I don’t know if this release would mollify them or cause them to modify their opinions but it does contain two major pianistic statements by which to judge her playing, albeit she was already sixty three when she set down the Beethoven Concerto in 1958 for Radio Suisse Romande. Here she gives us a generous but precise mediation, not out of scale but not standoffish either. There is scalar clarity, an assured cadenza and then a dramatic pianissimo - secretive, hesitant, suggestive. Ansermet’s oboist has a plaintive, small reed kind of sound, so these two sonorities and approaches work well together. The slow movement is warm but not cloyingly over-sentimentalised. It’s also not the Olympian dichotomy it can be with others, nor again an attempt at coalescing the two such as is sometimes attempted. The finale meanwhile is strong, spirited and unaffected.

The other major work is Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques. Here we find a performance of combative power, chordal weight but also considerable poetry. Instances of her rushing bars - as she could - are rare, and though there are one or two mishits, generally speaking her technical apparatus is good. Above all there is a serious narrative thread running through the music making, illuminated by colouristic shading, great energy and drive too. It’s a performance of fearless commitment.

Her Triana makes an entertaining solo encore. Unbashful, it glitters almost to the point of tonal hardness, if not brittleness (in truth it goes beyond those points) and Guller makes no attempt to corral her playing into a curvaceous even-handed tonal paella. This is a ‘take it or leave it’ performance and, exacerbated by the hard recording, certainly makes its point.

Drama-laced performances that show how combative Guller could be even well into her sixties.

Jonathan Woolf