French pianist and pedagogue Marie-Catherine Girod (b. 1949) is Professor of Piano at Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, the famous conservatoire founded by Alfred Cortot in 1919. Although she excels at core classical repertoire (recording, for instance, Mendelssohn’s complete catalogue of piano music), she is renowned for resurrecting, performing and recording works by neglected composers.
A particular penchant is for French Romantics who have disappeared from view, including Gabriel Dupont, Vincent D’Indy, Maurice Emmanuel, and organists Abel Decaux, and Charles Tournemire among many others. This work, in addition to teaching, a busy concert schedule and a catalogue of 40-odd recordings has earned Girod appointments to the ranks of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite.
For this latest recording on boutique French label Mirare, Girod turns her attention to female composers, a logical and inevitable progression for an artist with a long-standing interest in overlooked repertoire. The focus on French music remains (about half) and most of the selections on Régards de Femmes (translated here as Female Perspectives) are from the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are a few forays into the pre-Romantic Classical era though, the earliest of which is courtesy of the splendidly monikered Anna Bon di Venezia (1739-1767), the daughter of professional musicians who held positions in various European courts. Her Sonata for Harpsichord in G Minor (Op. 2, No 1) is a sprightly, toe-tapping delight, as is the Presto from the Op. 5 No 3 Sonata by French pianist and composer Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836), whose set of improvisations on La Marseillaise was impressive enough to persuade the Committee of Public Safety to spare her aristocratic neck during the Reign of Terror.
These sit alongside more familiar names; a perfect, compact Romance (Op. 21, No 1) from Clara Schumann (1819-1896) and Fanny Mendelssohn’s yearning Wanderlied (Op. 8, No 4).
In a collection of short pieces, the twelve-and-a-half-minute Variations on an Original Theme (of an Exceedingly Dismal Nature) by English composer and suffragette Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) is majestic, intriguing and not nearly as doleful as its drolly self-deprecating name might suggest. Other highlights include the glisteningly impressionistic Provence I & II by Jeanne Barbillion (1895-1992) and the Six Preludes of Henriëtte Bosmans (1895-1952), particularly the Lento Assai (No 2) and Agitato (No 3) with their echoes of Rachmaninov. Also impressive and very beautiful is an Impromptu from the only female member of Les Six, Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) and a terrific Toccata (Op. 39) by Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944).
Many other enjoyments await for those who dive into this thoughtfully selected, high-quality and always interesting program. Girod’s playing combines virtuosic precision and sheer delight (with a few spots of audible humming), conveying a sense that these performances are important revelatory tasks, and no further time can be lost.
The recording is evenly balanced across the sonic spectrum, warm without losing any of Girod’s meticulous crispness.
Composers: Farrenc, Montgeroult, Bon di Venezia et al.
Works: Piano works
Performer: Marie-Catherine Girod
Label: MIRARE MIR574