Kathleen Long APR 6041

Kathleen Long (piano)
The Decca Solo Recordings 1941-1945
APR 6041 [70 + 73]

In this twofer that most accomplished pianist Kathleen Long (1896-1968) is represented by her solo recordings for Decca made between 1941 and 1945. Earlier she had recorded for NGS and for HMV in 1933 (Mozart) but she also made some less well-remembered recordings for Musicraft in New York during a 1937 visit to the city. Around that time, she signed for Decca for whom she made concertos, solos and chamber music. It was her misfortune that the chamber recordings remained unissued, though her trio recordings of Brahms and Mozart with Eda Kersey and James Whitehead have survived, at least in part, at the British Library – though not the Clarinet Sonata Op 120/1 with Frederick Thurston or the Beethoven Cello Sonata Op 69 with Maurice Gendron.

This leaves a swathe of solos – in addition to the Mozart concertos, and other works, which have largely been transferred elsewhere. Her solo Decca recordings during the war were dominated by Scarlatti, Grieg, Fauré and Debussy. There are eight Scarlatti sonatas – two others from February 1943 were unissued – which she recorded at a time when harpsichordists were making inroads on the repertoire on disc, notably Landowska, Yella Pessl, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Sylvia Marlowe, Ernst Victor Wolff and Rudolph Dolmetsch. Notwithstanding this, Long proves a resourceful, fully pianistic and characterful performer. The Sonata in G major is among the best of these sonatas and perhaps it’s no coincidence that it’s a first take, preserving her vitality, liveliness and freshness. Cannily, Decca didn’t record Long in any of the sonatas that Robert Casadesus had recorded a few years earlier for French Columbia.

The pairing of the Siciliana (Anon/Respighi) and the Paradies (or Paradisi) Toccata is on M517 and is by some way the noisiest of these Deccas. I assume there was only one copy for Andrew Hallifax to work with, but he has preserved the surface noise the better to allow the upper frequencies to come through, a good compromise. There are a couple of pieces by Bach or hyphenated Bach. Sheep May Safely Graze from Cantata BWV208 is heard in the arrangement of Albert Lévêque but it sounds heavy and lacking in intimacy. The two little Schubert sonatas must have been very rare on disc, and were in all probability disc premieres, and are played with a fine balance between robustness and geniality; the dancing elements of D568 are a real highpoint. I like that Hallifax has retained surface noise between the tracks of these sonatas.

Long was an unshowy, unselfconscious and refined exponent of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, playing three each from the Opp 54 and 71 sets, and locating a sense of melancholy in the Shepherd Boy, and an antique flavour in Once upon a time. Fauré was one of her great reportorial strengths as she shows in the mobility of the Barcarolle No.2 and the controlled ardour of the Sixth Nocturne. Her first recording of the Thème et variations is here too and it’s exceptionally similar to her remake in its dignified, no-nonsense pianism. Those who find the work too pastel-coloured and watery will welcome Long’s occasionally bluff common sense, as much as her stylistic assurance. Her Book II of Debussy’s Préludes is similarly direct, too much so, perhaps, for some, and faster than Daniel Ericourt in his 1960 traversal – Ericourt was a French pianist who had known Debussy – to say nothing of Gieseking.

Being solo repertoire, and stopping in 1945, we don’t get Long’s collaboration with Sammons in the Delius Third Sonata (it’s transferred by Dutton), not do we get her Bach Partita No 1, BWV825 which dates from 1948. You’ll find her Mozart concertos elsewhere and her Fauré Ballade too.

Long continued to perform and record long after the war ended. She made her last broadcast for the BBC late in 1967 dying early the next year, by which time she had long retired to Bury St Edmunds, ten miles from the village of her birth. She used to have lunch in the Mason’s Arms pub (it’s still there) and invite folk back to her house for a sing song.

APR has enlisted the services of Jonathan Summers for the notes and have been rewarded with Alpha level documentation. Andrew Hallifax’s remasterings are judicious and excellent.

Jonathan Woolf

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CD 1
Anon/Respighi (1879-1936)
Siciliana, from Antiche danze et arie
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in C-sharp minor, K247
Sonata in G major, K201
Sonata in C minor, L84
Sonata in F-sharp minor, K447
Sonata in A major, K62
Sonata in B-flat major, K47
Sonata in F major, K366
Sonata in G major, K235
Pietro Domenico Paradisi (1707-1791)
Toccata (Allegro) from Sonata No 6 in A major
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Fantasia in C minor, BWV906
Sheep May Safely Graze from Cantata BWV208 arr Albert Lévêque
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Sonata in A minor, D537
Sonata in E-flat major, D568

CD 2
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces – Butterfly, Op 43 No 1
Lyric Pieces – Shepherd Boy, Op 54 No 1, Notturno, Op 54 No 4, Scherzo, Op 54 No 5
Lyric Pieces – Peasant’s Song, Op 65 No 2
Lyric Pieces – Once upon a time, Op 71 No 1, Summer’s Eve, Op 71 No 2, Puck, Op 71 No 3
Gabriel Fauré (1854-1924)
Barcarolle, No 2 in G major, Op 41
Nocturne No 6 in D-flat major, Op 63
Thème et variations, Op 73
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Préludes, Book II