Integrale Studio Import
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2007 seventeen CD set. In her day Marcelle Meyer was the doyenne of French piano. Cortot admired her and she performed with the likes of Ravel and Couperin. She had a vast repertoire that extended from the Baroque to contemporary composers like Stravinsky and she left a considerable recorded legacy. The recordings she made have not always been as readily available as one might wish, so it is a great pleasure to be able to get one's hands on this set of her recordings from 1927 to 1957. At a total of seventeen discs, this is a fascinating collection as well as a fantastic bargain. The composers represented include Chabrier, Debussy, Ravel, Bach, Couperin, Scarlatti, Mozart, Rossini, Schubert and Stravinsky. There is also a sonata by Oscar Espla, which was a new name to me. Almost all of the recordings are of the solo repertoire (there are no chamber pieces and only two Mozart concerti). There is also some reduplication of music Meyer recorded more than once: this applies to a lesser extent to the Couperin and Rameau, and to a slightly greater extent to the Scarlatti sonatas.
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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.
What about those who have the previous EMI "Introuvables" reissues of Meyer? This set contains about 60 performances not available on the previous sets, but only four new pieces of repertoire - the Espla "Sonata del Sur para piano y orquesta," one Scarlatti sonata (K. 8), one Rameau miniature, and Haydn's Sonata #34 in E minor from a piano roll (which, given the unreliability of piano rolls, may not quite count). Quite a few of the performances, especially among the 78s, have had their pitch corrected. But the sound of the tape performances, which is most of the music, is virtually identical, and not necessarily better when it's different. I'm very glad I made the upgrade, but please note that I'm a fanatic...
Chabrier: old remastering
Ravel: old remastering
Debussy: old remastering
Stravinsky: old remastering
R. Strauss: new remastering!!!
Rameau: old remastering
F. Couperin: new remastering!!!
Scarlatti: old remastering
Rossini: old remastering
Bach: new remastering!!!
Mozart: new remastering!!!
Schubert: old remastering
Virtually all the recordings that are here but were absent from "Les Introuvables" are newly remastered and sound very good. Marcelle Meyer seems to have recorded quite a few pieces twice. That means, for instance, that some of the music of Rameau and much of the music of Scarlatti is present in two different remasterings, the new remastering invariably sounding a lot better.
This leaves the question as to why EMI didn't re-remaster ALL the recordings. They should have!!! If I had to pay double price for a box of all newly remastered recordings of Marcelle Meyer, I would gladly pay it. This box is very nice, but it leaves the real music lover hungry.
BTW: the discs are wrapped up in individual paper bags. I took them out at once and put them safe in thin plastic cases. Much to my relief, all the discs were in impeccable condition: not a scratch anywhere. But I guess I've been lucky!
These days, I find myself more attracted to her Rameau, which has a wonderful combination of wit and grace. And indeed, it is for her Scarlatti, Rameau and Couperin that I still find her most often recommended. But as one might expect, her playing of her contemporaries is also very special. Her Chabrier is superb, and though I wouldn't want her Debussy to be my reference recording, I still find it genuinely illuminating.
In brief, though she is relatively little known--at least outside France--she is of far more than merely "historic" interest: she was a superb pianist, especially in baroque and early 20th-century repertoire. And at the asking price, this set is such an extraordinary bargain that you should grab it now, while it is still available.