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Long Faure d'Indy 6038
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Marguerite Long (piano)
Volume 1: Fauré and d’Indy
rec. 1930-1957
APR RECORDINGS 6038 [74:31 + 80:33]

Marguerite Long was born in 1874 and took her first piano lessons with her sister Claire, who in 1883 at the tender age of seventeen become a piano professor at the Conservatoire in their home town of Nimes. Théodore Dubois, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire recommended Marguerite study in the capitol after hearing her play Mozart's D minor piano concerto and so she did. She won her premier prix there in 1891 following studies with Henri Fissot and Antonin Marmontel, son of Antoine Marmontel who had beaten Alkan to the piano professorship at the Paris Conservatoire. The focus of this current set is her recordings of Gabriel Fauré but Long was also inspired and guided by her friendships with Debussy, Ravel, Milhaud and others and her recordings of some of their music will feature on volume two.

Long's introduction to the music of Fauré seems to have been to win the heart of a certain Joseph de Marliave and indeed when she became Marguerite Long de Marliave in 1906 Fauré and her teacher Antonin Marmontel were the best men. Not all was plain sailing; despite attracting positive reviews for her playing of Fauré's works and having worked with him on many of his pieces she felt slighted by his passing her over for a professorship and laid claim to his music as her personal demesne, to his apparent annoyance.

Her first recorded foray into Fauré was the orchestral version of the Ballade which she performed with Philippe Gaubert and the Orchestre de la société des concerts du Conservatoire, the same orchestra that accompanied her in her next recording of the work 1950 with conductor André Cluytens. The second version is a little more expansive and Long digs a little deeper into the keys in the later version but the flow and phrasing of both is excellent. If I was in any doubt of her authority in the later version this was dismissed by her playing at the allegretto moderato after the long introductory section. Orchestral support is excellent though the difference in style over the two decades is apparent when you hear the portamenti in the strings in the 1930 recording in this same section. Two other works here were recorded twice, the sixth Barcarolle and the second Impromptu. There is a very slight diminution of technique in the later version of the impromptu, notably really only at the climax of the opening section and the two recordings are quite similar in that Long tends to make little of the marked accents and not only ignores the sans presser into the more lyrical second section but actually seems to revel in getting faster at this point. That said both are a striking performances. In the sixth barcarolle I prefer the greater flow and freedom of phrasing she finds in her earlier recording. The 1957 is effective but the moments of jeu perle for the right aren't always matched by the lightness of touch in her left hand. It is her light touch that I appreciate more in the second of the barcarolles recorded in 1957; once again some of the lighter passage are beautiful in their deftness and flexibility but that is not always matched in louder passages which can sound a little forced. For sheer technical facility try Long's 1933 recording of the fleeting, enigmatic fifth Impromptu, wonderful fluency of fingerwork with only a couple of fluffs in more passionate octaves passages. I think I prefer the more natural rubato of Emma Boynet in the sixth of the nocturnes (APR Recordings APR6033 review, review, review) but on the whole this and the fourth nocturne that she recorded the following year (1937) are poised and elegant; I appreciate the limpid and weightless melodic playing in the E flat nocturne as well as the bell-like quality of the E flat minor section though I note that once again she is not happy to be told sans presser as the music unwinds back to the opening.

A nice surprise is the recording of Vincent d'Indy's Symphony on a French mountain song recorded with Paul Paray and the Orchestre du concerts Colonne in May 1934. Around the turn of the century d’Indy and his colleagues in the Schola Cantorum, an organisation set up as an alternative to the teaching and views of the Paris Conservatoire, had turned against the idea of the concerto; they saw it as merely a vehicle for ostentatious and shallow display. His Symphony Cévenole to give it its alternative title is actually in the concerto format and was composed several years before staged their artistic protests though even here d’Indy intended the piano to be more of an orchestral instrument, equal in status to the orchestra around it; the piano part is nonetheless very demanding and one which Long revels in. I haven't heard this piece for quite a while and whilst the outer movements stick in one's mind, especially the animated finale with its piano figuration creating such a distinctive timbre I had forgotten the beauty of the second movement, with the interplay of orchestra and piano around the rich melody.

A single song, Les berceux, sits on disc one. Vallin's tone is wonderful with a subtle and delicate vibrato and Long provides a flowing accompaniment; I hoped that this was just a teaser to fill the sides and I had a scout around for more but alas this seems to be their only recorded collaboration. Disc two is predominantly devoted to chamber music, the two piano quartets. The second was the first to be recorded, laid down on 10th May, 1940 under the incredibly difficult circumstances of the impending German invasion. The pairing of Jacques Thibaud and Maurice Vieux on viola is wonderful, cellist Pierre Fournier being a little further back in the mix and Long demonstrates pianissimo playing of the highest quality. This is especially true of the magical third movement, all beautiful but exceptionally so in the final pages where the strings are muted. This may be a more serious work than the first but despite some of the tortured writing in the first movement and the circumstances it is a sunny and luminous performance. It was 16 years later that Long recorded the first quartet, the first work by Fauré that she played back in 1904 with the composer turning pages. It is a lively performance, with little sign of her 81 years. She is rhythmically focussed and intent in the energetic finale and youthful in the allegro vivo scherzo, a vitality matched by the Pasquier trio. I was particularly taken with the tragic intensity of the adagio but as with many of these recordings it is Long's quieter dynamics that impress most. The sound in this later recording has more warmth but otherwise there is not a lot to choose; the transfers are quiet and allow for plenty of detail.

I enjoyed getting to know these recording but unlike previous volumes in this excellent series there were only a few points where I settled back and thought yes, that's how it should go or was grabbed by some particularly well-rounded phrase or sudden frisson. It is enjoyable and authoritative playing nonetheless and I am looking forward to the promised second volume completing her recordings of French repertoire and Chopin.

Rob Challinor
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Ballade Op.19 orchestral version (1877/1881) [13:21]
Barcarolle No.6 in E flat major Op.70 (1896) [3:13]
Impromptu No.2 in F minor Op.31 (1883) [3:07]
Impromptu No.5 in F sharp minor Op.102 (1909) [1:59]
Nocturne No.4 in E flat major Op.36 (c.1884) [4:38]
Nocturne No.6 in D flat major Op.63 (c.1894) [8:12]
Barcarolle No.2 in G major Op.41 (1885) [6:04]
Barcarolle No.6 in E flat major Op.70 (1896) [3:35]
Impromptu No.2 in F minor Op.31 (1883) [3:27]
Les Berceaux Op.23 No.1 (1879) [2:54]
Vincent d'INDY (1851-1931)
Symphonie sur un Chant montagnard Français Op.25 (1886) [23:51]

Gabriel FAURÉ
Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.15 (1876-79) [32:00]
Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor Op.45 (1885-86) [34:00]
Ballade Op.19 orchestral version (1877/1881) [14:27]

Philippe Gaubert (conductor)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire 
Paul Paray (conductor)
Orchestre du concerts Colonne
Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Jean Pasquier (violin)
Pierre Pasquier (viola)
Étienne Pasquier (cello)
Jacques Thibaud (violin)
Maurice Vieux (viola)
Pierre Fournier (cello)
André Cluytens (conductor)

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