Darré studied first with her mother from the age of five, then at the Paris Conservatoire with Isidor Philipp and Marguerite Long, receiving a premier prix in 1919. She made her debut the following year at the age of fourteen at the Salle Érard in Paris, and by the age of sixteen was playing many concerts in France, England and Hungary. Her mother accompanied her, and whilst in Budapest around 1922 they attended a concert by Vladimir Horowitz. Darré later said, ‘Horowitz was really my inspiration. I realised then that music and the piano were the most important things. For me he is the greatest.’ Darré received guidance from István Thomán and Margit Vargas, both pupils of Liszt, and from Count Apponyi who was an intimate friend of Liszt. French composers of the time also helped her with the interpretation of their works: Fauré in his nocturnes and a barcarolle; Ravel, with his Ondine and Toccata; Saint-Saëns, in his piano concertos; and she even played Busoni’s completion of Liszt’s arrangement of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro to the great Italian pianist and composer. She in turn heard Busoni play Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto Op. 73 and a good deal of Liszt.
Her first concert with orchestra was given in Paris in 1923 with the Lamoureux Orchestra under Paul Paray, and a year later Darré played with the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire with Philippe Gaubert. However, it was on 28 May 1926 that Darré’s career was really launched when, in one concert, she played all five piano concertos of Saint-Saëns, again with the Lamoureux Orchestra under Paray. A successful concert and recording career followed and Darré became a noted teacher holding posts at the Paris Conservatoire and L’Académie d’été de Nice.
Although she toured Europe and Africa, Darré did not play in America until 1962, making her debut in New York with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Charles Munch and returning the following year to Carnegie Hall to give a Liszt recital. ‘One hung on every note of the flamboyant Liszt. What so often seems rhetoric and sentimentality sounded like pure poetry and vivid drama last night.’ From 1968 to 1970 she returned to America to give master-classes at Ithaca in New York.
Darré made her first recordings whilst touring England in 1922. These Vocalion recordings are acoustic, yet the extraordinary power and energy of Darré’s playing comes through. During the early 1930s she recorded for Polydor and HMV. A disc of Saint-Saëns’s Toccata displays her light, transparent sound, and very French style of finger independence. Virtuoso works including the 1838 version of Liszt’s La Campanella and La Chasse and a Dohnányi arrangement of a Strauss waltz show a technique not necessarily modelled on Horowitz yet impressive for its flair and panache. Darré practised scales every day for at least an hour, claiming that she could not open her piano without playing them; she then would work on around six Chopin études for another hour followed by études of Czerny, Alkan and Moszkowski. This regime lasted throughout her life and was, no doubt, responsible for her being able to give concerts when she was in her eighties.
Her recording of Vincent d’Indy’s Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français was made in 1931 with Albert Wolff conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra. It was a great success, staying in the catalogue until after World War II. From the recordings made for Pathé in France just after the war, there is a very fine performance of Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Op. 22 with André Cluytens conducting the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra. Darré spins an Andante of particular tonal beauty, and the Polonaise is never overblown or bombastic. With conductor Paul Paray, Darré recorded the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Saint-Saëns, but a few years later after the introduction of long-playing records she recorded all five concertos with Louis Fourestier and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française between 1955 and 1957. These have been reissued on compact disc, coupled with a delightful recording of Saint-Saëns’s Septet Op. 65, and still represent the best recorded version of the piano concertos.
In 1952 Darré committed to disc the études of Chopin, some of which she played every day, and in 1959 made a disc of Liszt and Chopin that includes one of the best versions of Liszt’s Légende: St François de Paule marchant sur les flots. The power and drama of this reading is overwhelming and can be compared favourably with Alfred Cortot’s recording.
Darré’s last commercial records were made for the American label Vanguard in 1965 and 1966. They were, however, recorded in Vienna. Of Chopin, she recorded the twenty-four préludes, the fourteen waltzes, the four scherzos, the Fantaisie in F minor Op. 49, a nocturne and the Berceuse. The remaining disc was of Liszt, including her only recording of the Piano Sonata in B minor and two Études d’exécution transcendente including Feux follets that she had previously recorded in the late 1940s. All of her recordings contain a tremendous vitality and joie de vivre.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).