This 17-CD set contains all of Marcelle Meyer's EMI recordings, and it is a veritable cornucopia of delights. Meyer had a long and distinguished career as a doyenne of French pianists, and close friend of French composers, from the early 1920's through the mid-1950's. Her touch is immaculate, her phrasing consistently imaginative, her tone sparkling and her interpretations nearly always illuminating. She never makes an ugly sound (although some of the Rameau performances from the early-LP era are recorded in an unflatteringly close studio acoustic).
Meyer had a huge repertoire, which is reflected in the splendidly diverse array of pieces anthologized here--everything from Couperin through Stravinsky, including the complete piano music of Chabrier (one of her specialties, and superbly done). Arguably her finest efforts were on behalf of Baroque composers. She recorded almost everything in the Rameau canon (including multiple versions from different phases of Meyer's career), plus a huge swath of Bach, Scarlatti and Couperin. Her interpretations of these composers (many of whose keyboard works were still underappreciated and underperformed in Meyer's day) are, in a word, exquisite. She makes the most of the expressive resources of the modern piano, yet never oversteps the sensibilities of the 18th Century. Moreover, the virtuosity she displays in these four composers is truly astonishing. In Bach her finger dexterity rivals Gould's--and her tonal palette is more varied than his. Her Scarlatti is vivid and visceral, with transcendental technique.
Her Debussy and Ravel manifests these same virtues of elegance, graciousness, evocativeness, and super-refined virtuosity, and her Mozart manages to convey playfulness and charm without preciosity.
There are of course, many other composers represented in this anthology--too many, in fact, for me to comment on in a brief review. Suffice it to say that over the very long haul of 17 CDs I was never bored and rarely disappointed in Meyer's recreative artistry. Since the sources for these recordings range from early electrical 78s through monaural LPs, it is inevitable that the sound quality will be variable--and it is. Most troublesome was a perceptible amount of temporal distortion (wow and flutter) in some of the Bach. But the good news is that for the present set EMI have done complely new remasterings that have corrected many of the problems found in earlier reissues of some of this material. The pitch in the Bach (which was noticeably sharp in an EMI/Références production from the early 1990's) has been corrected, and elsewhere the sound is remarkably good for the period. Probably the least alluring sound comes from the 1950's, which, as indicated above, can tend toward the clangorous and claustrophobic.
But don't let the vagaries of the sonics dissuade you from purchasing this set, which is of immense historical and musical value--and also remarkably inexpensive, considering the huge quanitity of music contained on these 17 CDs. Pianophiles everywhere--particularly those interested in the evolution of 18th and 20th century performance practice--should seek this out forthwith. Urgently recommended.