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L’Ecole Lazare-Lévy
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Pièces pour clavecin 3ème Livre, 13ème ordre
Les lis naissans [1.34]
Les Rozeaux [2.40]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata No.10 in C K330 [16.25]
Sonata No.11 in A K331 [15.22]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in G Op.14 No.2 – First movement [7.48]
Piano Sonata in D Op.10 No.3  - Second movement [4.47]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka Op.7 No.3 [1.56]
Mazurka Op.6 No.2 [1.45]
Mazurka Op.17 No.4 [3.34]
Mazurka Op.50 No.2 [2.29]
Nocturne No.13 Op.48 No.1 [6.27]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Pièces pittoresques
Sous-bois [3.59]
Idylle [3.25]
Scherzo-Valse [3.38]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Estampes Livre II - La soirée dans Grenade [4.31]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Kreisleriana Op.16 – incomplete [20.25]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
La plainte au loin, du faune [3.55]
Lazare-Levy (piano)
Recorded commercially and live, 1931-55
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.9 K271 Jeunehomme [30.17]
Clara Haskil (piano)/Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Otto Ackermann, recorded 1954
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Preludes Book 1 No.10 - La cathédrale engloutie [6.44]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Pièces pour clavencin 3eme Livre, 14eme ordre
Le carillon de Cithère [2.30]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata L384 [3.20]
Deodat de SÉVERAC (1872-1921)
Petites pièces romantiques
Ou l’on entend une vielle boîte à Musique [1.09]
Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772)
Pièces pour clavecin 1er Livre
Le coucou [1.53]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 Op.15 [45.27]*
Solomon (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, recorded live November 1954*
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No.3 [24.25]
Monique Haas (piano)/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, recorded live January 1951
TAHRA 556-558 [74.39 + 77.25 + 70.16]

 

 

Lazare Lévy, the oddly hyphenated name came much later, was born in Brussels in 1882 where his parents had fled to avoid the German occupation after the war of 1872. He was a pupil of Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire and was in turn to rise to a comparable eminence as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of Parisian teachers. That he is not as well remembered as Yves Nat, or Cortot or Marguerite Long may rest on a paucity of recordings; it certainly can’t reflect a prestigious lineage of pupils, three of whom are represented in this triple CD set.

He had a considerable career and an unusually catholic repertoire taking in Rachmaninov as well as de Falla when their works were hot off the press, though he was a pillar of the French repertoire ancient and modern. He took over Cortot’s chair at the Conservatoire in 1923 and managed to maintain a busy schedule of concert programmes, travelling to Turkey, Egypt and Palestine as well as to Athens and Vienna - and most geographical points in between. He was at the apex of his prestige in the 1930s but the War took a terrible toll of himself and his family; his son Phillipe was a resistance fighter and was captured and killed. As a Jew in occupied France his life was held in the balance but he managed to survive through constant movement and vigilance, though the Conservatoire job he’d held was given to Marcel Ciampi and Lazare-Lévy never recovered it. He did continue to give concerts however and to record and teach (Michel Plasson, André Tchaikovsky). He died in 1964.

Most of the recordings here are post-War and therefore date from his sixties and beyond. They reflect very accurately his strongest reportoirial strengths and make for a consistently important body of commercial and live recordings. The little Couperin pieces offer a glimpse into his compelling mastery of the genre and his Mozart shows a player of directness and high seriousness. He plays the Allegretto finale of K330 with playful warmth, light in the French style; the recording is undated and inclined to be a little cloudy, though it does pick up his strong bass extensions in the Andante of the same sonata. There’s no exaggeration in his Mozart playing; K331 has a few left hand fluffs and the dynamics are flat, as much a recording characteristic as the playing I suspect, but this is unmannered and quite stylish playing. His Beethoven has no obvious philosophic predilections though the extracts don’t necessarily allow the opportunity for real examination of a composer to whose music he was devoted and which he played extensively. On the limited evidence here he was a straightforward, elevated and rather serious player.

His Chopin consists entirely of Mazurkas and the Op.48 No.1 Nocturne from a 1951 Geneva broadcast. Impressive once more these take no great liberties, but are suggestive and colourful – the Op.17 No.4 Mazurka is especially languid and evocative. His Nocturne is measured but stylish. Even better is his elite Chabrier – rhythmically vivacious, subtle, treble-glinting. The sole Debussy is a glimpse of his way with the composer and would that we had more. The Schumann Kreisleriana is regrettably not quite complete – it comes from the pianist’s own archive and is undated – and offers a different kind of French Schumann from those expounded by contemporaries such as Cortot or Nat. It’s actually rather like his Mozart – with unexaggerated rhetoric, a sure sense of spine and direction, not over-poeticised or galvanically romanticised. The recording is slightly hollow but the Erard is caught with reasonable fidelity. The Dukas is from a 1931 78.

This is all the Lazare-Lévy that we have but there are also examples of recordings by three of his elite pupils. Clara Haskil contributes the Jeunehomme Concerto with Otto Ackermann conducting, a Cologne studio concert from 1954. The piano is very closely recorded but the orchestral textures are very attractively aerated by Ackermann who has a very particular conception of the strings’ role in particular and that’s to be as light and lissom as possible. Haskil contributes a fine Andantino cadenza and there’s a sense of affectionate spaciousness in the finale – as well as a sense of line. In all this is a most diverting reading, though in the context of a tribute to her teacher maybe a series of smaller pieces might have been preferable.

In Solomon’s case we get both such a series of miniatures and a big concerto. Bryan Crimp, in his biography of the British pianist, relates that Lazare-Lévy refused all payment from Solomon. And I suspect that many will be unaware of his two years in Paris after the First World War where he clearly learned well and much from the Frenchman – and the admiration was mutual. From Solomon we have a very Lazare-Lévy like programme of Scarlatti, Couperin, Daquin, de Séverac and Debussy. Some of these solo items are currently available on other labels – APR in particular - but it makes for a judicious selection here. Solomon’s famously slow Debussy is here and he shows that de Séverac doesn’t have to be served “Fabriqué en France” so delectably is it pointed. The Brahms Concerto is a known commodity and collectors will have it on Myto. This was made shortly before his commercial recording and whilst full of his towering intellectual control and depth of utterance, is not notably finer than that one.

Jochum is again on hand to accompany another distinguished pupil, Monique Haas, in Bartók’s Third Concerto. However attractive it is to hear the two musicians together the 1951 sound is subfusc and there’s considerable distortion in the orchestral tuttis and a cloudy, occluded sound generally not at all favourable to the elucidation of detail and deftness. We can appreciate the warm solo chording in the slow movement and the weight of string tone Jochum encourages but it’s a generally uncomfortable aural ride.

I must not forget to commend the long biographical essay nor the accompanying booklet, which is devoted to a pictorial biography of the pianist. There are some beautifully reproduced photographs and a splendid colour reproduction of Henri Lebesque’s 1908 painting, spread over two pages. There’s little here, if at all, about his pupils but the focus remains locked on Lazare-Lévy and Tahra’s devotion to him pays rich rewards.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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