This disc gives us the rare opportunity to hear Marguerite Long perform on a single disc the Ravel Concerto in the two recordings she made. The first was made in 1932, conducted by Pedro de Freitas Branco – the long fiction that this was conducted personally by the composer was ended years ago – and the second followed twenty years later, when Georges Tzipine was the conductor. The earlier recording is the one more often encountered on disc, so it’s good to hear the later version, though not everyone will be keen as mustard to have the duplication.
The 1932 performance is brisk, business-like, rather boxily recorded, and sometimes indifferently performed by the anonymous orchestra. That said, it has real personality and a sense of occasion. Long is far faster here in the first two movements than she was in the 1952 recording. This has the advantage of strong, rhythmic dynamism, but the disadvantage of seeming slightly matter-of-fact in the slow movement. In her second recording she is more circumspect, and occasionally this leads to a slight feeling of a lack of direction in the first movement. I do, however, prefer the generosity of phrasing in the Adagio assai where she adds a minute and a quarter to her earlier recording’s timing, and it makes a difference. It’s now less chipped and brittle, rounder of tone and more long-breathed in phrasing – less detached, really, and less objectified, albeit more conventionally beautiful. Some may yet prefer the more taut construction of the 78 set.
There’s also the chance to hear Milhaud’s go-getting pocket 1933 First Piano Concerto – all twelve or so minutes of it – in this first-ever 1935 recording with the composer this time very definitely on the rostrum. This is a juicy, freewheeling and virtuosic work that plumbs absolutely no expressive depths and doesn’t mean to either. The highlight, of the work and the recording, is the lovely fluid Barcarolle second movement which is very lightly textured, well balanced – the violin and wind balancing is good here – and played beautifully. Then Long unleashes some powerful chordal roulades in the mock pompous finale.
The ‘fillers’ are just as good; more Milhaud solo works where the brio of Alfama contrasts with the brooding Paysandú, and then a perhaps even more important quartet of Debussy works. There are the Arabesques, a glittering and excellently recorded Jardins sous la pluie, and a lovely La plus que lente. Given her position as a leading exponent of the composer’s music these are important documents – as indeed is everything on this well transferred and engaging disc.