Long APR 6039

Marguerite Long (piano)
Volume 2: Chopin, Debussy, Milhaud and Ravel
rec. 1929-1952
APR 6039 [72 + 72]

The second volume of APR’s Marguerite Long retrospective is once again focused on French repertoire, with recordings set down between 1929 and 1952 (review of Volume 1). In common with the previous volume, all the recordings featured here have been superbly restored by Mark Obert-Thorn.

CD 1 is devoted exclusively to Chopin. Centre stage is the premiere recording of the Piano Concerto No.2. Philippe Gaubert conducts the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatore in this June 1929 inscription. She made a later recording of the work in 1953 with André Cluytens which I haven’t heard, so can’t offer any comparisons. In this earlier recording, the soloist is forwardly projected, with the orchestra sounding slightly recessed. The first movement begins with a heavily truncated tutti. The slow movement, an exquisite nocturne imbued with pathos and beauty and speaking of unrequited love, isn’t the best I’ve heard. I find Long’s rendition oddly prosaic and devoid of poetry. Gaubert’s staid support isn’t much to write home about either.

Set down on 11 May 1929, the Fantasy in F minor is the earliest recording in the set. Long displays virtuosity in abundance and captures the piece’s mercurial moods, with rubato kept firmly under control. The playful F sharp minor Mazurka is stylish. Of the two waltzes, the A flat seems a bit rushed. Elegance and poise characterize her Barcarolle, whilst the Berceuse, a true lullaby, is well-paced and gently rendered. Adopting a pearl-like tone, she achieves myriad tonal colours with each successive variation. It’s certainly one of the highlights of this collection. The Second Scherzo is action-packed with drama, with contrasting sections of poetic lyricism.

Despite the fact that Long forged a personal friendship with Debussy and championed his music, she recorded very little of it. The two Arabesques are played with geniality and affection. Jardins sous la pluie is nicely paced and sparkling even though she herself considered her performance too fast. La plus que lente is tastefully delivered without the overindulgence on the rubato front one sometimes encounters.

The set offers two recordings of Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto recorded twenty years apart, and how different they are. The 1932 traversal is the world premiere recording with an orchestra directed by Pedro de Freitas Branco. Perhaps this version is the better known of the two. The first two movements are more brisk than in the later version. The central slow movement is rhythmically strict. In 1952, this time with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire and Georges Tzipine, she takes a more relaxed approach and allows herself more rhythmic freedom. The sound quality had improved greatly by the time the second recording was made. I have to say that I much prefer the later one for its less hemmed in approach and the more perceived affection lavished upon it.

Darius Milhaud dedicated the first of his five piano concertos to Marguerite Long. She premiered it in Paris in 1934. That performance was conducted by Alberf Wolff. The recording was made a year later on 5 & 6 April 1935 with the composer himself at the helm of an unnamed orchestra. Two vigorous, neo-classically wrought outer movements frame a central Barcarolle, which provides a soothing contrast. This ‘slow’ movement is a delight, where radiant woodwind writing provides a diaphanous backdrop to the luminous piano writing. Long achieves some subtle, glorious colouring. The two solo piano pieces offer some striking contrast. Paysandú is dark and sombre, whilst the more virtuosic Alfama displays a sparkling, carefree demeanour.

This volume, together with volume 1, positions Long in the hierarchy of great pianists. I’m grateful to the skill and care APR have lavished upon these valuable recordings. Roger Nichols insightful liner notes are the icing on the cake.

Stephen Greenbank

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Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Fantasy in F minor, Op.49
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op.59/3
Waltz in A flat major, Op.64/3
Waltz in D flat major, Op.70/3
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 (1829)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatore/Philippe Gaubert

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (1931)
Orchestre Symphonique/Pedro de Freitas Branco ¹
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Arabesques 1 Andantino con moto [3:21]: 2 Allegretto scherzando (1888-91)
Estampes – Jardins sous la pluie (1903)
La plus que lente (1910)
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Piano Concerto No.1 op.127 (1933)
Saudades do Brazil Op.67 No.12 Paysandú (1920-21)
L’automne Op.115 No.2 Alfama (1932)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (1931)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Tzipine

Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf (October 2022) ~ Rob Challinor (November 2022)