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Piano Archives: Volume 1
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat Op.35 (1840) [17:30] ¹
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestucke Op.12 (1838) [24:10] ²
LAZARE-LÉVY (1882-1964)
Prelude No.1 [1:38] ²
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Masques – tres vif et fantasque [4:15] ²
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Five Pieces pour piano ³:
Aubade [3:51]
Ballabile [1:19]
Caprice [2:25]
Feuillet d’album [1:52]
Ronde champetre [3:20]
Habanera [3:16] ³
Air de ballet [5:08] ³
Impromptu [2:58] ³
Joyeuse marche [3:41] ³
Yves Nat (piano) ¹
Lazare-Lévy (piano) ²
Marcelle Meyer (piano) ³
rec. Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, March 1953 (Chopin); Philharmonie de Varsavie, February 1955 (Schumann); Paris, 1929, commercial 78s (Debussy, Lazare-Lévy), RAI, Rome, May 1955 (Chabrier)
TAHRA TAH 591 [76:33]

The first in an enticing-looking new series from Tahra offers a trio of French pianists caught on the wing in live performances. The three are Yves Nat, Lazare-Lévy and Marcelle Meyer, names that will resonate with collectors. They will know how rare is live Nat material and how Meyer’s Italian broadcasts are really only now coming into international prominence. Equally they should note that there are two anomalous Lazare-Lévy recordings – his own Prelude and Debussy’s Masques - both from commercial 78s recorded in 1929, but nonetheless very welcome even if not live.

The Chopin reveals Nat in crisis. He had retired from concert giving in 1937 and this 17 March 1953 recital, of which the Chopin survives here, seems to have been his first concert in fifteen years. This would perhaps go a long way to explaining the torrential ferment that we hear - a performance of such intense drama that the legion of wrong notes makes Cortot sound, in comparison, a paragon of digital control. There’s little sculpting of phrases and the speed is intense. Much of his playing in the first two movements is objectively speaking simply catastrophic. He recovers somewhat for the Funeral March, though the melody line often disappears. He is better in lyric sections and best of all in the finale. But obviously one needs to extend something of a historical-biographical veil over much of this.

Lazare-Lévy was taped in 1955 at the age of seventy-three. He was eight years older than Nat but his playing is of a different order entirely. The recording quality for the Schumann is pretty reasonable with only a few splintery moments. Solomon’s teacher has a splendid array of tone colours, limpidity in the treble, agility across both hands, and a real ear for Schumann’s sound world. He doesn’t neglect caprice either, and this is a performance that will hearten and gladden his admirers, of whom there must now be more since Tahra’s recent tribute to him, L’Ecole Lazare-Lévy on TAH 556-558. Any recording by him is to be prized.

To complete the French pianistic trinity we have Marcelle Meyer, now probably the best known of the three. A great slice of her discography has been well served by French EMI and other companies have also served her well, not least Tahra itself which issued a first class book-sized two-disc tribute on TAH 579-580 earlier this year and a recommendable single on TAH 564. Now we have more and it consists exclusively of Chabrier, the product of a 1955 RAI broadcast. Charming, incisive and witty we are treated to one piece of nimble characterisation after another. Though the acetates were apparently in poor shape the restoration work has certainly raised the level to a most listenable level – no complaints on that score, though the original seems to have been a touch airless and treble dampened. Her Impromptu – to take one example almost at random – is delightfully skittish in its Schumannesque way. And the Ronde champêtre has a vocalised gusto that is well nigh irresistible in Meyer’s hands.

This is the first in a projected series of ten. Production values are very good and the selection is coherent and of lasting value, if not always of equal musical distinction.

Jonathan Woolf 






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