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Hyperion Records

APR5533 - The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 3 – Chaminade & Saint-Saëns

Recording details: Various dates
Various recording venues
Release date: September 2001
Total duration: 68 minutes 3 seconds

The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 3 – Chaminade & Saint-Saëns
Cécile Chaminade (London, late 1901)
Camille Saint-Saëns (Paris, 26 June 1904)
Valse mignonne Op 104  [2'27]  Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)  recorded 26 June 1904
Valse nonchalante Op 110  [3'04]  Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)  recorded 26 June 1904
Incomplete: Extracts  [3'47]  recorded 26 June 1904
Incomplete: Extracts  [1'47]  recorded 26 June 1904
Camille Saint-Saëns (Paris, 24 November 1919)
Movement 1: Prélude  [3'24]  recorded 24 November 1919
Gabriel Willaume (violin)
No 3: Rêverie du soir à Blidah  [3'42]  recorded 24 November 1919
No 4: Marche militaire française  [3'35]  recorded 24 November 1919
Première Mazurka Op 21  [2'53]  Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)  recorded 24 November 1919
Valse mignonne Op 104  [2'21]  Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)  recorded 24 November 1919

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.

The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited existed for no more than seven years, yet during its brief life it was res­pon­sible for one of the most remarkable artis­tic and technical advances in the history of the gramophone. It was during this time that a few committed believers convinced a host of scep­tical and suspicious luminaries that the gramo­phone should be looked upon as a valid artistic medium. The result was an astonishingly rapid metamorphosis: an expensive toy became one of the prime chroniclers of its age.

The story begins with The Gramophone Company Limited, formed in London in April 1898. This was the company which, just a few months after it came into being, employed a young American recording engineeer and talent scout called Fred Gaisberg. As the popu­larity of the gramophone gained a quite excep­tional momentum, particularly in Britain, so Gaisberg and his fellow ‘recordists’ – as record producers were then known – set out on an unparal­leled pilgrimage of exploration and documentation. It was largely due to their indefatigable efforts that The Gramophone Company was able to advertise the availability of no fewer than 5000 titles by December 1900. However, despite this runaway success the company’s managing director, William Barry Owen, was convinced the bubble would burst, to which end he decided to diversify into a totally unrelated field: the typewriter, in particular the Lambert typewriter, a machine which employed a rotating plate rather than the standard keyboard. A new company was consequently established in December 1900: The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited.

It was not long, however, before it became all too apparent that this particular exercise had been a major blunder; the Lambert machine proved to be as impractical as it was cheap. The magnitude of the flop resulted in Owen’s resignation as Managing Director in April 1904. Come February 1905, by which time Owen had also vacated the board room and returned to obscurity in his native America, The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited ceased the manufacture, sale and servicing of the Lambert typewriter. That the company survived this debacle was due entirely to the continuing success of the gramophone, though it was not until November 1907 that the company dropped ‘Typewriter’ from its name and reverted to being The Gramophone Com­pany Limited. It was not, of course, the end of an era – indeed the gramophone went on to ever greater glories – though it was the end of what is commonly considered to have been the most adventurous and exotic period in the history of recording.

During the seven G&T years many sister companies were set up, notably in Germany, France, Russia, Austria and Spain. A mag­ni­tude of stellar names from across the globe were lured before the recording horn as moths to the flame. The briefest roll-call of the great and glorious includes Melba, Patti and Calvé; Caruso, Figner and Tamagno; Battistini, Plançon and Chaliapin; Joachim, Sarasate and Kubelik; Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Grieg; Pugno, Diémer and Grünfeld; Eibenschütz, Janotha and Chaminade; even Carmen Sylva (H.M. Queen of Romania), H.I.M. Mouzaferedin Chan (Shah of Persia) and the Sistine Choir (including the castrato Moreschi).

The first G&T discs, seven inches in dia­meter, were launched in the UK in December 1900. Most of them were among the first records to benefit from a new process of manu­facturing and duplication, this being the cutting of a ‘master’ into a wax blank as op­posed to the cumbersome zinc-etched process. In October of the following year the first ten inch G&T discs, called ‘Gramophone Concert Records’, were released in Britain. Production of the twelve inch disc, the ‘Gramophone Mon­arch Record’, followed in the middle of 1903. Advertisements not only stressed the advan­tages of the larger diameter which ‘averaged about four minutes’ but revealed that ‘the less acute curve which the sound waves are called upon to traverse’ enabled ‘the sounds to be reproduced with even more exactness and truth to nature’.

The Gramophone and Typewriter Limited continued to employ the familiar ‘recording angel’ trademark which had first appeared on The Gramophone Company’s records in Octo­ber 1898 (see illustration on cover). Francis Barraud’s celebrated painting of ‘His Master’s Voice’ was first used on the company’s adver­tising material in January 1900 though Nipper, surely the most famous mongrel dog in history, did not begin to grace record labels until 1909.

Introduction to Volume III
This third volume of piano G&T recordings presents the complete recordings of the two most popular pianist–composers in French music at the turn of the twentieth century: Cécile Chaminade and Camille Saint-Säens. Although obviously beyond the boundaries of this series it seemed an ideal opportunity also to include Saint-Saëns’s 1919 recordings, thus making his unique and historically important contribution to the gramophone available com­plete for the very first time.

Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade (Paris 8.8.1857–Monte Carlo 13.4.1944) was a child prodigy – the earliest of her voluminous output of compositions pre-date her eighth birthday – born into a non-musical family. It was Georges Bizet who advised her bemused parents that they should provide her with nothing less than the most thorough musical education. This she received in the French capital where she studied piano (Felix Le Couppey), counterpoint, harmony and fugue (Augustin Savardin), violin (Martin Marsick) and, later, composition (Benjamin Godard). Despite her precocious gifts Chaminade did not make her formal concert debut until she was eighteen, after which she rapidly became a noted performer of her own compositions. Cele­brated in her native country, she was positively fêted in the United Kingdom from the time of her debut in 1892 (a recital at London’s St. James’s Hall comprising entirely her own works) and throughout the years immediately before and after the First World War. She enjoy­ed a comparable success across the Atlantic after making her USA debut in 1908 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in her Concertstück.

Despite Chaminade’s immense popularity her compositions have been widely disparaged, even in her own time, on account of the light­weight nature which defines not only her music for piano (two and four hands), by which she is commonly remembered, but also her more exten­ded compositions including orchestral and chamber works, ballet music and an opera. ‘Agreeable salon music’ might well have been one of the kinder sneers but, to a very great extent, Chaminade created French ‘salon music’ which surely is not necessarily synon­ymous with music of inferior quality. In short, superbly crafted and instantly pleasurable domestic music was Cécile Chaminade’s trade – and one which she purveyed with easy elegance, as is apparent from these recordings.

Whereas the genesis of Saint-Saëns’s recor­d­ings are well documented, little survives concerning the discs Chaminade made in London during late 1901, presumably while she was in the capital giving one of her sell-out recitals. Pierrette and Les Sylvains were, at this time, among her most popular pieces though Automne, her greatest success, is curiously absent. Might it have been the subject of matrix 1137, a performance which dis­satis­fied her? As with many recordings of this period we can hear Fred Gaisberg announcing ‘go’ at the start of some sides.

(Charles) Camille Saint-Saëns (Paris 9.10.1835–Algiers 16.12.1921) was a prodigy of such phenomenal accomplishments that he can be considered on a par with Mendelssohn, born just a quarter of a century before him. As a per­former he first appeared in public as a pianist before the age of five though he did not make his formal debut in this capacity (at the Salle Pleyel) for another five years. He began to compose at the age of six and subsequently entered the Paris Conservatoire studying organ (François Benoist) – during his early adult years Saint-Saëns’s prowess as an organist eclipsed his fame as a pianist – and composition (Jacques-Francois Halévy). He was to cultivate many interests outside music, not least poetry, astronomy, archeology and science. Ultimately the bastion of ‘The French tradition’, Saint-Saëns was showered with honours both at home and abroad and much admired by the likes of Gounod, Rossini, Berlioz and even – to a degree – Wagner.

Saint-Saëns is commonly considered to be the prime instigator of French piano music as it is recognized today, his gifts as a pianist playing a critical role in the establishment of the modern French style. Indeed, whether heard in 1904 or 1919, at the venerable age of eighty-four, the much-admired qualtities of the jeu perlé style are very much in evidence. Here is playing which is uncommonly neat and ele­gant, which is rhythmically precise without being metronomic, and a sound which boasts a rounded and even tonal palette – achieved by fingers which are as astonishingly dexterous as they are oblivious of all obstacles.

Aside from the cylinder recording of Brahms (born in 1833) Saint-Saëns was the earliest-born composer to enter the ‘recording laboratory’. Like Chaminade, he confined him­self to his own compositions though, charac­teristic of his generosity, he was keen to share the experience with musical friends. For the 1904 G&T recordings his confrère was the Belgian mezzo-soprano Meyrianne Héglon (1867–1942). An established member of Saint-Saëns’s formidable circle, she had earlier that year participated in the première of his opera Hélène (dedicated to Nellie Melba, who sang the title role) though it was via the role of Dalila by which she won her greatest acclaim. Héglon was originally to have recorded six songs by Saint-Saëns and three by her husband Xavier Leroux, though the final contract called for four piano solos and six accompanied songs with Saint-Saëns at the keyboard throughout. In the event it was noted that M. Saint-Saëns ‘kindly played one extra piano solo and Héglon sang seven songs’. Héglon was dissatisfied with all her recordings and expressed the wish to re­record them. Aware that it would not possible to get the composer back into the studio until September, after he had completed a lengthy South American tour, the French branch of the G&T Company eventually per­suaded Héglon to approve four sides which they considered ‘fairly good, and which could pass’. Given that Gaisberg had pronounced hers ‘the finest con­tralto voice he has ever heard’ they did her an obvious disservice. It can only be assumed that either her voice was not compatible with the recording horn or that she was out of voice in June 1904.

Aware of the problems they had experi­en­ced with their Paris-based recording machine, the Managing Director of the French branch of the company, requested that a new one be specially built. This necessitated Gaisberg’s presence in Paris as he was the only recordist familiar with the latest sound box developed in New York. However, this meant him having to post­pone some Mario Ancona recordings to enable him to cross the English Channel on the Friday, arrange tests during the following day prior to the Sunday afternoon recording session (Saint-Saëns departed the following day). Thus we are consequently spared the waver that so disfigured many of the earlier French G&Ts, though the discs are nowhere near as clean as those cut in London at the same time – or even the earlier Chaminade recordings! The machine seemed incapable of capturing the loudest passages which con­se­quently ‘blast’ – most noticeably on the vocal ten-inch discs. Saint-Saëns, it will be noted, can be heard commenting at the end of some of his solos.

Plans to record more Saint-Saëns were first mooted in 1916 by the French Branch of what had by that time become The Gramophone Company, but company headquarters in England were less than enthusiastic, convinced that the sales figures could not possibly equal that of Paderewski – then the current musical and commercial phenomenon. It was not until 1919 that Saint-Saëns re-entered the studio, this time in company with the violinist (Albert) Gabriel Willaume (1873–1946), a former pupil of the Paris Conservatoire who became pre­eminent in the French capital as a versatile soloist and ensemble player (in the latter capacity he gave the first Paris performance of Ravel’s Piano Trio in 1915 with Louis Feuillard, cello, and Alfredo Casella, piano). From that second session a further eight recordings by Saint-Saëns were published. In just two days, albeit more than fifteen years apart, a potent souvenir of a very great pianist who also happened to be the greatest French musician of his era was captured for posterity.

Bryan Crimp © 2001

Other albums in this series
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 1 – Vladimir de Pachmann, Aleksander Michalowski & Landon Ronald' (APR5531)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 1 – Vladimir de Pachmann, Aleksander Michalowski & Landon Ronald
APR5531  Download only  
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 2 – Alfred Grünfeld, Raoul Pugno & Natalia Janotha' (APR5532)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 2 – Alfred Grünfeld, Raoul Pugno & Natalia Janotha
APR5532  Download only  
'The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 4 – Diémer, Eibenschütz, Hofmann & Backhaus' (APR5534)
The Piano G & Ts, Vol. 4 – Diémer, Eibenschütz, Hofmann & Backhaus
APR5534  Download only  
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