Marcelle Meyer Plays Debussy Is French Record Company’s Superb AAA Debut

The French Record Company’s first release is a limited to 200 copies edition of a “never before released but should have been” 1958 recording of pianist Marcelle Meyer playing a Debussy program recorded for the Les Discophiles Francais label (DF 211-212).

Meyer’s LPs that were released regularly sell for $1000+. Even the 78s fetch hundreds of dollars. You might say she’s got a Joanna Martzy-like following among record collectors who are aficionados of French impressionist composers.

The reasons for the interest in her recordings is easy to understand: she was born in Lille, France in 1897 and at age 14 entered the Conservatoire de Paris. When she was 16, she won a “Premier Prix” competition after which she studied Ravel’s music with Spanish composer/pianist Ricardo Viñes who was well-regarded as Ravel interpreter as well as other French composers, including Debussy and Satie.

At age 20 Meyer played the premier performance of Satie’s “Parade”. She met at the premier Claude Debussy and coached him on how to play his “Preludes” and was the first to play them in recital. She went on to become Erik Satie’s favorite pianist and premiered with composer Francis Poulenc his piano Sonata for four hands. In April of 1920 Ravel invited her to play with him a two-piano version of La Valse in private recital with an audience of Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Poulenc.

The “pianist’s pianist” went on to play public recitals throughout Europe. Meyer died of a heart attack November, 17th 1958 while playing her sister’s piano. She’d been planning at the time her first North American concert appearances.

Meyer began her recording career and association with Les Discophiles Francais in the late 1940’s with recording engineer/audio pioneer André Charlin. Charlin held patents for a push-pull electrostatic loudspeaker and for a variable reluctance phono cartridge. He got involved in “the talkies” and in 1934 produced a stereo sound track for Abel Gance’s 1927 silent movie “Napoléon”. Our kind of guy!

He sold all of his many electronics patents to Philips after World War II and returned to recording music—something he’d abandoned years earlier. In 1949 he produced the first European microgroove vinyl record. In 1958 he developed a stereo recording technique and in 1963–64 he patented the Tete Charlin, a dummy head for commercial stereophonic records using two high-quality Schoeps microphones. He also co-founded Erato Records. Charlin died November of 1983 at age 80. Most of Meyer’s recordings were for Les Discophiles Francais.

Perhaps Meyer’s passing so close to the scheduled release date is what prevented the original release of this record. Whatever the reason or reasons, this double LP set produced from the original Les Discophiles Francais tapes is the first time these recordings have been released commercially. If you want to learn more about Meyer, visit the Bach Cantatas website.

While Meyers’ background makes clear her talents, you needn’t be a Debussy fanatic to immediately be drawn into her fluid, dazzling playing of the 24 Preludes, divided into 2 books and recorded in 1956 and 1957. The program also includes other solo piano pieces.

The monophonic sound is reminiscent of the Martzy violin recordings of this period: somewhat distant as if you are listening from the far end of a long room, but with great clarity and especially of the transients and upper register, though it all sounds quite fine and it never becomes “boomy” or bloated. The image of the piano is stable and well-defined within the space. I can’t imagine any digital version of this recording having the natural textural expressiveness produced by these all-analog records. Never, not once did I hear overload distortion, despite the dynamic peaks produced by Meyer’s intense playing.

The reissue production is interesting and international in scope: the tapes were brought to America (Nanuet, NY to be specific) where Trutone Mastering Labs’ Carl Rowatti cut lacquers. The lacquers were then taken to Salina, KS, where QRP’s Gary Salstrom did the plating. The metal parts were then flown to Germany and pressed at Pallas.

The packaging is “Electric Recording Company” exquisite: gatefold with the outer jacket done in “heavy canvas” and deeply embossed gold leaf lettering like the original DF’s and an inner gatefold of pasted heavy paper stock. (Note: the 9 for sound takes into account the age of the recording).

The pressing quality (at least of the sample I was sent) is perfect: the records are 100% concentric and I did not encounter a single pop or click. Of equal importance is the absolute black background silence. The double LP set is costly at 600 Euro, but it’s otherwise unavailable and for those who can afford it, it will bring repeated pleasure well in excess of the cost—it’s the proverbial magical musical time machine.

Speaking of ERC, it recently reissued a Les Discophiles Francais recording (DF 209-210), Bach’s Sonatas for violin and piano but played on the organ by Marie-Claire Alain with Michéle Auclair on violin. In this case, as with all ERC reissues, it was cut on an all-tube cutting system using a mono cutter head. Originals of this regularly sell for $5000+ and sometimes in excess of $6000!

By the time the review sample arrived, it was sold out on the ERC website. However, another DF release is scheduled for January 31st, 2020 release and is still available though it too, like the Bach release is limited to 99 copies. On this one Auclair partners with pianist Jacqueline Bonneau in a program of Ravel and Debussy.

Anton D's picture

I have several ERC releases. It seems the edition sizes are shrinking and price rising.

Nothing wrong with that, but 99 copies at 600 USD a pop is getting to be a perilous edition size.

Weren't most releases issued at about 300 copies?

I love my Coltrane, Evans, and other ERC pressings, but I worry about long term sustainability with this trend.

Not a criticism, more of a 'concern.'

Andrew L's picture

I certainly agree with you. It is quite cynical marketing by ERC to artificially self-limit the release to 99 copies from the previous 300. It makes is hardly worth reviewing or even publicising as by the time it's available it will most likely be gone!
The FRC release of Marcelle Meyer's Debussy Preludes, whilst laudable in its artistic motivation strikes me as a "me too" edition to emulate some of ERC's market.
You only need to look at some of the outstanding recent reissues from Analogphonic, Speaker's Corner et al to see that classical facsimile reissues can be done well at a more everyday price.

Michael Fremer's picture
ERC has invested an enormous sum of money to assemble and restore an all tube vintage cutting system in its own London facility. Speakers Corner has not!
Analog Scott's picture

Doesn't do these ridiculously limited editions either. So their product is much more affordable. Maybe these conmpanies should consider doing editions of 1,000 and charge $90.00 instead of doing runs of 99 and charging $900.00.

Laurenzo's picture

I don't think FRC imitates ERC at all: ERC publishes only reissues ( often as good if not better than the original ones ) when FRC makes researches in order to publish never previously released material - completely different artistic choice.

Laurenzo's picture

This Meyer Debussy album is a beauty, and it's great to see a genuine world premiere edition in the world of analog LP's. I have always followed Michel F. advices, and never regretted it !
FRCompany says they publish only "never previously released" material on vinyl, so regarding the record market, the price is fully justified, especially regarding the manufacturing ! ERC publishes top quality re issues using high end equipments as well, which is superb as well.
Not to mention only the sound, but also regarding the quality of the sleeves, the difference between Speaker's corner, Analogphonic and ERC or French Record Company is hudge ! Just look at spekear's corner sleeves, and compare with the recent ERC and FRC super luxe editions !!...imagine how much they must have spent to achieve these gorgeous canvas albums....
Not everything is worth everything ! Personally, I highly recommand this Debussy Meyer release, both in term of vinyl rarity, and musically, ....especially for those who are lucky to have good audio equipment: it's logical to "offer them" the records they deserve !

Anton D's picture

I have several of the Devialet "Lost Recordings" series and find them quite insightful and sonically solid.

Worth a listen!

Andrew L's picture

Don't get me wrong, if someone offered me a copy of the FRC Meyer I wouldn't say no, but couldn't justify paying the huge price even for nice cardboard! Similar clothbound editions have been done before for a lot less than EU600.
I'm sure ERC have spent heavily on restoring their antique equipment, but I'm with Jim Tavegia and Anton D. There's no physical reason why only 99 copies are manufactured, it's done to create artificial scarcity value for collectors rather than music lovers and whilst I'm happy to pay a fair price for new items, paying $600 for barely 30 minutes of music is from cloud cuckoo land. BTW in my experience Analogphonic issues ARE amazing value both from their sleeve reproduction to the pressing and sound quality despite not necessarily using olde worlde tube gear to make their recreations. Most new classical issues from major labels suck! It's as though they have forgotten how to produce records. Very few have proper sleeve notes and gone are the distinctive yellow DG centre labels etc. But that's a subject for another day!

Jim Tavegia's picture

Sadly many who will want to own this will not be able to. I fail to see the point in only 99 copies. If to those involved only 99 people get to enjoy this is merely an academic exercise, 99 X $600. The world will still know nothing of a great artist. Hardly worth a review telling us of what we won't hear.

Anton D's picture

Each of those 99 people will be able to tell their friends they own this record. That's something.

The cynical me predicts only 15% of these babies will ever feel the soft caress of actually being touched by a stylus.

Maybe Wu Tang had it right...just make one pressing and charge 2 million bucks.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Being one of 99 is not much of a medal to wear, even among audiophiles. I would not be impressed by an owner of this album.

Analog Scott's picture

I think the fear of missing out on something excellent is as much if not more of a motivation

RubenH's picture

why not then also release a couple of thousand copies as (non-hybrid) SACDs at - say - $50? That would still keep the vinyl at a ridiculously low number of copies, but allow many other music lovers to enjoy this somewhat obscure pianist. I mention non-hybrid so as further limit this from the great unwashed who merely have CD and not SACD players.

Gohoos81's picture

However the QRP test pressing destroy the Pallas retail version of you are lucky enough to get one. JM (the owner) sold me one for €750.