The French Piano School
Marius-François Gaillard: Complete Debussy Recordings
Carmen Guilbert: Debussy, Fauré & Ravel
APR 6025 [73:10 + 76:23]
Two pianists are featured in this APR release, billed as ‘The French Piano School’. The bulk of the issue is given over to the complete Debussy recordings for French Odéon of Marius-François Gaillard (1900-1973). Ten tracks on CD 2 spotlight the Pathé inscriptions of Carmen-Marie-Lucie Guilbert (1906-1964), heard in music of Debussy, Fauré and Ravel. The release has been timed to coincide with the Debussy centenary commemorations.
Marius-François Gaillard forged a threefold career as a pianist, conductor and composer of film scores. A product of the Paris conservatoire, he studied piano with Louis-Joseph Diémer and Georges Falkenberg. From the former he acquired a masterly technique, from the latter – a poetic sensibility. In 1920 he performed all then-known piano works of Debussy in public performances, which he went on to repeat in subsequent years. In 1928, the French company Disques Odéon were impressed enough to offer Gaillard a contract to record the corpus. Sadly, the project had to be abandoned two years later due to financial difficulties. That said, the traversal, though incomplete, represented the most substantial body of the composer’s recorded piano music up until the start of World War II. Later, it was Walter Gieseking who took up the mantle, with a complete cycle that superseded Gaillard’s efforts. So, what we have from Gaillard are sixteen 78-rpm discs of 27 pieces. The pianist used a Pleyel piano for the undertaking. APR presents the recordings in chronological order, with the first session on 22 March 1928, and the last on 23 October 1930. Gaillard only recorded Debussy. Aside from this legacy, there were some earlier piano rolls of the composer’s music, not included here. His pianistic career flourished until the 1930s when he began to gravitate towards conducting and composing.
There is so much to delight the senses in Gaillard’s playing that I thought I would highlight some of my particular favorites. The Arabesque No. 2 is faster than I am used to hearing (2:41, whereas Hans Henkemans is 3:15) but it works well. The clarity of the fleet fingerwork sparkles, and Gaillard projects an air of whimsicality. Although he tends to favour brisk tempi, both Henkemans and Gieseking outpace him in the Toccata from Pour le Piano. Reflets dans l'eau, the first of three pieces from the first volume of Images, is notable for its clean, pristine passage work and limpid grace. He manages to achieve a wash of impressionistic hues. The monolithic La Cathédrale engloutie is imposing, the chords are perfectly weighted. This ideal voicing of chords in Danseuses de Delphes and the Sarabande from Pour le piano reveals some diaphanous sonorities. In addition, his judicious use of the sustaining pedal ensures harmonic clarity. In La plus que lente, rubato is tasteful, not overdone but added sparingly. Sensitive pedalling reveals a fine array of colour in Pagodes. The ubiquitous Clair de lune is refined and magical in Gaillard’s hands. The Toccata from Pour le piano is a tour-de-force, dispatched with stunning virtuosity.
Carmen-Marie-Lucie Guilbert made her career during the inter-war years. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Marguerite Long, who knew and worked with Debussy in the last years of his life. Her other teacher was Joseph Morpain, a pupil of Gabriel Fauré. It is significant, therefore, that both composers, in addition to Ravel, feature in her meagre discography.
Guilbert’s recordings are the model of poise, elegance and refinement. Bruyères depicts an idyllic landscape, rendered with delicacy of touch, whilst Minstrels is playful and quirky. Fauré’s Impromptu No. 2 in F minor fizzes with effervescence. Fauré’s Nocturne No. 6 in D flat, though serene, is tinged with melancholy. The Thème et variations Op. 73, at just over 12 minutes, is the most substantial offering. After the solemn opening theme, the subsequent variations are wonderfully characterized. Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso sizzles with energy and rhythmic glitter.
As a newcomer to both pianists, APR’s package of two well-filled discs proves a stimulating and fascinating experience. Liner
notes are written by Caroline Rae. The transfers, fully respecting the colour and tonal range of both performers, have been accomplished with great skill by Mark Obert-Thorn, and the results are impressive.
Marius-François Gaillard (Odéon recordings 1928-1930)
1. Jardins sous la pluie (Estampes, No. 3)
3-4. Deux Arabesques
5. Reflets dans l’eau (Images, Set I, No. 1)
6. La soirée dans Grenade (Estampes, No. 2)
7. La Cathédrale engloutie (Preludes, Book I, No. 10)
9-11. Pour le piano
12-15. Preludes, Book 1 – Danseuses de Delphes, La fille aux cheveux de lin, La serenade interrompue, Minstrels
17. La plus que lent
18-21. Preludes, Book 2 – La Puerta del Vino, General Lavine – exentric, Ondine, Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq., P.P.M.P.C.
2. Pagodes (Estampes, No 1)
3. Valse romantique
4-6. Suite Bergamasque – Prélude, Menuet, Clair de lune
Carmen Guilbert (Pathé recordings 1930-1938)
7. Minstrels (Preludes, Book I, No. 12)
8. Bruyères (Preludes, Book II, No. 5)
9-10. Pour le piano – Sarabande, Toccata
11. Impromptu No. 2 in F minor, Op. 31
12. Barcarolle No. 6 in E flat major, Op. 70
13. Nocturne No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 33, No 3
14. Nocturne No. 6 in D flat major, Op. 63
15. Thème et variations, Op. 73
16. Alborada del gracioso (No. 4 from Miroirs)