Many musicians recorded far less often than their talents deserved.
The Louis Diémer student Marcel Ciampi, for example,
who was born in 1891 made just one CD’s worth of solo
piano recordings on 78s. Ironically his wife, the violinist
Yvonne Astruc, made a rather bigger show on shellac. Fortunately
they both recorded on LP and it’s to Ciampi’s 1952
Chopin Polonaise recordings that Forgotten Records has astutely
If Ciampi is now better remembered as a teacher - his students
included Hephzibah, Yaltah and Jeremy Menuhin, Yvonne Loriod,
Cécile Ousset, Marcel Gazelle and a host more - then
discs like this should adjust one’s perspectives more
onto Ciampi the performer, the man who had accompanied Casals,
Thibaud and Enesco before the war.
Ciampi was an energising, voluble performer, whose instincts
remained unshackled by the recording studio. In his very first
session, in June 1929, he had recorded the Op.26 No.2 Polonaise.
It’s a rather plummy recording but it doesn’t differ
much materially from this 1952 LP performance given nearly a
quarter of a century later. Opportunities such as this are quite
rare in Ciampi’s discography, where one can listen to
performances decades apart and compare and contrast. His later
recording is just as effective, though detail differs, of course.
What doesn’t change is his spontaneous-sounding sense
of engagement. He was a terrifically alive performer, whose
sense of zest is a delight to hear.
Artistically he is somewhat difficult to place. You’d
assume French, but actually Ciampi (who died as late as 1980)
is rather more in the Russian tradition. Yes, he is often touted
as a Diémer student, as Forgotten Records does and as
my first paragraph did, but he seems to have learned most, and
studied best, with a pupil of Anton Rubinstein called Marie
Perez de Brambilla. There is nothing precious or bejewelled
about this kind of playing; on the contrary there’s a
muscularity about it that compels excitement. Vitality and energy
are generated in the Op.44 Polonaise, rhythmically vital and
tonally admirable. He brings drama to everything he plays and
his sense of characterisation, exemplified by the Grande
Polonaise - with some piquant hesitations - is an essential
ingredient of his art. There are some moments of untidiness,
such as in the Polonaise-Fantaisie, but the obverse is
the formidable drive he builds.
It’s a shame that the Polonaises just creep over the 80
minute mark, thus necessitating a second CD. But for those inquisitive
in the art of this outstanding teacher and performer this set,
recorded when he was already 61, will clearly indicate the sense
of communicative drive of which he was capable.