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Mozart : Fantaisie K.397 - Ravel : Tombeau de Couperin - Alabiev-Liszt : l'Alouette - Moussorsgki : Gopak - Rachmaninov : Barcarolle op.10 n°3 - Debussy : Feux d'artifice - Falla : Danse rituelle du feu - Fauré : Nocturne n°4... / Madeleine de Valmalète, piano
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Although Madeleine de Valmalete (a pupil of Isidor Philipp and Joseph Morpain) performed extensively in Europe, often giving concerto performances with major conductors, she is virtually unknown in America, because she never toured here, and she made few recordings. Her only commercial releases were a series of 78s for Polydor in 1928 - some of these were issued in the US on Brunswick. This CD contains all of the Polydors, as well as some private recordings from 1961 and 1992.
The disc opens with a 1992 digital recording of the Mozart Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397. Producer (and longtime pupil of Valmalete) Eric Ferrand-N'Kaoua, who arranged for these sessions, stated that she wanted to "treat herself to some Mozart", and in his words, "the burden of her 93 years seemed to dissolve as soon as she sat down at the piano." Contemporary "Mozart specialists" may frown upon some of the interpretive things she does in her Mozart, but it still makes for enjoyable playing - with a heck of a lot of history behind it. The last item on the disc is the technically taxing Mozart Sonata in D, K. 576. In some of the bristlier passages here, we may be reminded of her age, but at 93 the playing is still miraculous and certainly worth hearing. I presumed that these performances were "live" and unedited, and private correspondence with Allan Evans assures me that if any edits were done, they were minimal. We should all play that well at 63.
The 1961 recordings are of Faure - a composer she knew personally - the Nocturne in E Flat, op. 36, and the Impromptu in F minor, op. 31. Hearing these, I understand for the first time why the F Minor Impromptu was once so popular. Her phrasing, and sense of "breath", makes the music so much more than a rush of notes.
The last topic for discussion is the 1928 Polydors. The "Tombeau de Couperin", its first complete recording, is a brilliant performance as well as an important historical document. If this work was written between 1914 and 1917, we are hearing a recording of a standard repertoire work "in its eleventh year" - and in my humble opinion this recording alone would assure her reputation. Crystalline playing and a certain rhythmic "snap" throughout make this performance one that should not be overlooked by pianists wishing to study this work. I cannot find concrete evidence that she coached this with Ravel, but certainly he at least heard her at some point.
The remaining Polydor discs are of smaller works, and what an eclectic mix! Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Falla, Ravel, and Alabieff/Liszt. Each piece is beautifully executed - often with her own personal touches (a more brilliant ending to the Falla, glissandos substituted for the short rapid scale passages near the end of the Prokofiev "Love of Three Oranges", for example. Each of these recordings is a standout, and the listener will soon choose his or her favorites. I keep returning to the Prokofieff and the Liszt Rhapsody - a particularly engaging performance.
Production is of the quality that one expects (and gets) from Arbiter releases.
This disc is a "must-have" for anyone interested in French pianism, and hopefully it will restore interest in Valmalete.
Recommended with enthusiasm.
Her 1992 Mozart K.397 Fanatsy and K.576 Sonata are satisfying;make you want to hear them immediately again. Romantic, big-boned,but true to the music's heart . At 93, we have timeless readings of music simple for children, difficult for adults, spun of pure gold in her hands.
Then come a series of works from 1928 Polydor sessions in Berlin:
The Ravel Tombeau is relevatory,and apparently the first recording of this work. In her view, the work is not an exercise in "impressionistic" composition; or a virtuoso display; but an earnest tribute to and re-creation of the great harpsichord style,sound,and ornamentation. Her Prelude, Fugue, Forlane,and Menuet are especially telling, left-hand voicing overlooked by many,reverent,sparingly pedaled performances. Even the accomplished Casadesus recording misses some of her depth of detail. Her hands work in concert to create integral wholes, not unrelated gestures. Valmalete shows there is more Couperin in the Ravel than Rameau in Debussy's Hommage.
Then, great Liszt!! The first 2/3 of her 11th Rhapsodie reminds me of the elegance and color suggested in Busoni's 13th Rhapsodie recording, and dePachman. Then, at the end, a powerful, free-wheeling display, in total simply playing the excellent Kentner version under the table, Kentner at 6:05, Valmalete 5:17.
A French pianist who is not uncomfortable with the stoicism and tragedy that informs the best of Russian music. Her Rachmaninoff Bacarolle is unaffected, yet strong . She avoids having the flickering figurations in the Rachmaninoff too prominent . She provides a more melancholy reading than Graffman's somewhat brighter view, her waters darker, ominously quieter. Then, Prokofieff's Oranges March colorful, brilliant, rich.
Having established herself equally at home in Ravel,Liszt,Mozart, Prokofieff,and Rachmaninoff, we then are treated to a remarkable string of selections which bring us a cool,modern Debussy Feux d'artifice; the passion of deFalla Fire Dance; the liquid colors of classicist Ravel in Jeux d'Eau;and finally warm,restrained romanticism of Faure; all different styles and sound; all perfectly realized.
Her Debussy Feux must be one of the great recordings ever of anything, jaw-dropping,split-second control, technically and intellectually staggering,even Paul Jacobs not extending the bounds of this score as Valmalete does, Jacobs at 4:22,Valmalete an incandescent 3:36.
In sharp contrast,the Faure Op.36 Nocturne, recorded in 1961, my favorite moment of the cd,exquisitely shaped. Collard's excellent recording is top of the keys playing, colorful and etherial at times, but in Valmalete we have gentle rubato and more emotional depth,with still all the filigree and color.
A small sample, but sufficient to support Allan Evan's assessment as surely one of the greats.The range from Mozart to Rachmaninoff exemplifies the Golden Age tradition,while the Debussy performance reflects a transitional pianist at home in the 20th Century. While a student of Philipp and the Conservatoire, one does not have an impression of a "French" pianist.It would have been wonderful to hear her Schubert,Schumann,Brahms,Chopin.Apparently, at age 80 she was still playing the Liszt Sonata and complete Chopin Etudes.Perhaps with this Arbiter cd , EMI will be encouraged to release her 1975 Chopin Ballades,withheld by EMI for some reason.
From the liner notes,copyright, by her student Eric N'Kaoua:
"Critics praised her varied artistry,passionate temperment, and staggering technique...She was a force of nature...the second Frenchwomen ever to earn a driver's license,yet still lived with her much-respected mother,whose constant presence may have discouraged potential suitors.. (Valmalete married in 1949)...Her playing draws forth the phrases without affection,making exteme pianissimi speak,and is never harsh,even in the most violent fortes...Although these performances may be impregnated with the heritage of the Romantic pianism, I believe they transcend schools of interpretation and stylistic questions.They offer an all too brief glimpse into her own musical world,marked by a sort of sublimated childlike grace,spiritual innocence,and intensity. But then playing the piano can be likened to those Tibetan monks who painstakingly sculpt evanescent statues out of yak butter. Like Tibetan monks,pianists must begin again every morning to communicate to those who know how to listen.They much live each day,however fleeting,to the fullest.This may be the price for men and women to truly advance."
A price paid gladly by Valmalete, her wonderfully sculpted readings hopefully not a fleeting legacy.