Marguerite Long (piano)
Volume 2: Chopin, Debussy, Milhaud and Ravel
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Philippe Gaubert
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Tzipine
Unnamed orchestra/Pedro de Freitas Branco, Darius Milhaud
APR RECORDINGS 6039 [2 CDs: 145]
APR recently released Marguerite Long's recordings of Fauré and d'Indy on APR6038 (Review) and now adds more French repertoire and honorary Frenchman Chopin. These selections cover all her solo recorded repertoire and much of her work with orchestra as well; perhaps her Beethoven and Mozart Concertos will appear on a future release along with Ernesto Halffter's Rapsodia portuguesa recorded with Charles Munch in 1942.
Disc one is devoted to Chopin and includes three of his larger scale solo pieces as well as his F minor Concerto. The Fantasy may not appeal to all tastes; Long is obviously eager to explore all aspects of its many contrasts and while the march is well shaped she flexes her fingers in the more virtuosic sections that follow, showing much more rubato than in the march. The octave sections are wonderfully impressive; I have seldom heard them done with such disregard for the possibility of mishap and, true to her nature she actually speeds up through them. I think the only part that left me flat is the Lento sostenuto which comes across as a little lifeless, odd considering how the rest positively fizzed with animation. As impressive is the over familiar second Scherzo where she actually managed to grab my attention. Apart from her marvellous pianissimo in the D-flat main theme she is the first pianist I have heard who takes the sempre con fuoco before the return of the opening quite so precipitately. The waltzes are elegant and while they may strike some as fast they have a buoyant dance quality that is infectious. It wouldn't be a Long recording if some of her sudden accelerandi didn't creep into her playing and
Op 64 No 3 certainly ends that way. Her sole mazurka recording is a far cry from the playing of these pieces by polish pianists, Ignaz Friedman to take a striking example, and its urbanity here virtually makes it another waltz. In the Berceuse there is a lot of attractive playing but I occasionally found too much rubato, the left hand waiting for the right hand to get on with it. Her Barcarolle is not for the faint-hearted; the notes describe a pupil listening to Debussy playing it and feeling that at the fortissimo return of the theme Debussy was actually physically manhandling the gondola, such was the effort he put into his playing. Much of the same can be heard in this overtly bold performance.
I was eager to hear the Concerto as this supposedly used the re-orchestration that André Messager had worked on for her and which she played to acclaim in 1927 but for reasons unknown the recording she made two years later with Philippe Gaubert at the helm stayed with Chopin's original; certainly the only alteration I hear is in the piano part and that is in the very final bars where Long plays the piano's final rising figure in octaves rather than the written triplets. There is much to enjoy in the performance as a whole but I do find that the sense of freedom and spontaneity that works in the fantasy is not so successful here with tempo pulled about and rushed passagework; the figure at 4:19, usually so elegant is almost forced and the same figure at 9:37 is worse. The unnamed orchestra can sound ugly at times and the direction is often perfunctory, a shame as Long does some lovely things; her beautiful line and exquisite trills in the slow movement as well as her improvisatory manner in the middle section and she is vibrant in the finale though I do feel she does try a little too hard to make the second subject sound like a rustic dance.
Onto disc two and French repertoire. APR have generously given us both of her versions of the Ravel Concerto in G, recorded twenty years apart. Ravel wrote the work for Long and she premiered it under his baton in January 1932. Despite what the original labels proclaimed Ravel did not conduct the recording; honours go to Pedro de Freitas Branco though one assumes Ravel would have been present. The first recording was made just thirteen weeks later on 14 April of that year and it is a gripping and dizzying performance; tempi are fast and Long's enthusiasm sometimes catches the orchestra by surprise, forgivable in a work that was still getting embedded into the players' fingers. In the second movement Long opens in almost strict tempi, perhaps as an antidote to the kaleidoscopic colour and verve of the outer movements. I have no problem with this and certainly prefer it to the much freer style of her 1952 version but I do feel that the left hand is a bit intrusive; if that had been more held back this would have been ideal. She relaxes as the movement goes on and the interplay with the winds is wonderful. The later recording is a more refined version of this; the work is now familiar to the orchestra and, while the finales are almost identical time-wise Long adds about a minute to each of the opening movements. One concerto that was definitely recorded under the composer's direction is the short first Concerto by Darius Milhaud, a work dedicated to Long and of which she gave the first performance. The booklet calls this work colourful, energetic and complicated rather than the pleasant and uncomplicated description offered by an American biography of Milhaud. I would certainly not dismiss pleasant from its description and it is immediately striking; the writing is sparkling and there is nothing really difficult to listen to. The first movement has a variety of ideas but few themes to hold on to which might go some way to explaining its neglect – in these days of super-virtuosity I hesitate to suggest the difficulty of the piano part might have contributed to that and the Ravel is more difficult in any case. The second movement is marked mouvement de barcarolle and opens with an uneasy theme in the winds, quickly joined by the piano; Milhaud's bitonality is more obvious in this movement. There is a lighter mood in the middle where piano and solo violin have a brief duet and the movement ends peacefully, the disquiet of the opening forgotten. The heavy opening of the finale seems portentous but once the piano enters the mood is lighter; again there is little in the way of themes to get hold of but I love the quieter section at 1:54 with the ensemble between piano and winds. Long is evidently revelling in the exiting piano part and if it is seldom going to be heard nowadays it is good to hear this early recording, again recorded virtually on the heels of the premiere. As encores to this there are two short solos by Milhaud, the languid Paysandu from his Saudades do Brasil and the jolly Alfama from l'Automne, both of theme oozing with character under Long's fingers.
The disc is completed by four familiar Debussy works. The only issue I have with the first arabesque is the way that the left hand adds a note to the first descending right hand theme; it is there in the piano part but I have never noticed it making such an obvious intrusion into the mix. The rest has a wonderful sense of fluency and colour and this continues into the second, deft and full of light and shade. Her jardins sous la pluie is very fast – why am I not surprised – but its themes sound unhurried and she still has plenty of scope for the animez et augmentez peu à peu and glorious painting in the ensuing 1° Tempo moins rigoureux. After Gieseking's rather fraught La plus que lente (APR6040 review) I can appreciate Long's suave and elegant version.
On the whole I enjoyed this volume more than the previous one. There are occasional corners that I might wrinkle my nose at but Long's pianism here is vivid and infectious. Mark Obert-Thorn has done fine work on the transfers and even where the surface noise is more noticeable, in the Chopin Berceuse for example, it is never distracting. A winning release.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Fantasy in F minor Op 49
Mazurka Op 59 No 3
Waltz in A-flat major Op 64 No 3
Waltz in D-flat major Op 70 No 3
Barcarolle in F-sharp major Op 60
Berceuse in D-flat major Op 57
Fantasy Impromptu in C-sharp minor Op 66
Scherzo No 2 in B-flat minor Op 31
Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor Op 21
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (rec. 14 April, 1932)
Piano Concerto in G major (rec. 12 June, 1952)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Estampes No 3 Jardins sous la pluie
La Plus que lente
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Piano Concerto No 1 Op 137
Paysandu from Saudaes do Brasil Op 67 No 12
Alfama from L'Automne Op 115 No 2
Published: November 22, 2022