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Jonathan Woolf
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CD: Solstice


Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in B flat major ("Hammerklavier") Op. 106 (1817-18) [35:15]
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (1821-22) [17:03]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) in D flat, J260/Op. 65 (1819) [8:24]
Yvonne Lefébure (piano)
rec. Maison de Radio-France, July 1961 (Op.111); June 1973 (Op.106) and January 1971 (Weber)
SOLSTICE SOCD238 [61:18]
Experience Classicsonline

I’m a great admirer of Lefébure but as pompous academics are inclined to write at the foot of their students’s miserable efforts, This Will Not Do. She was only sixty-three when she set down Op.111 and Op.106 followed over a decade later by which time she was seventy five. It would be tempting to excuse these frequently violently over-hurried performances on the grounds of increasing age and possible infirmity – but she did record or broadcast frequently at the time and this company has already been prolific in presenting this part of her legacy to the public.
Granted she was never one to indulge repeats throughout her career but the torrid way she dispatches Op.111 in seventeen minutes – even Gould took twenty three in 1956 – is a sound to hear. We needn’t ponder overmuch about Solomon, Schnabel and Kempff – whose second movements range from about fourteen minutes to eighteen. Lefébure takes ten. The sense of engulfing rush is bizarre, the linear sense she imposes so wilful that the result is a total mess of articulation, floundering and mayhem. Sometimes this kind of thing can be the result of a rhetorical attitude towards a composer – Gould is himself an example of an executant trying to take a composer down a peg or two in this repertoire. But Gould at least had a manifesto, adolescent though it was. Lefébure I suspect was simply out of her technical depth by this stage; either one goes slowly to compensate for technical limitations or too quickly and hers was the latter route.
The Hammerklavier is in terms of timings only three minutes off Kempff’s 1951 mono recording. One should note however that Schnabel, Gilels (live, 1984) and Solomon (1952) all took incomperably longer; forty seven minutes in Solomon’s famous recording. Even Elly Ney, old, discredited and herself technically flawed, took eighteen minutes for the Adagio sostenuto (in 1968) whereas Lefébure takes under fourteen in this movement alone. Once again things are rushed horribly and crude. The dropped notes are of less interest than the gabbled syntax, the lack of sostenuto, and the regrettable lack of engagement.
After all this the Weber is neither here nor there.
The recordings are middling. Her piano sounds fairly nasty, clattery and small-toned; it’s more distant in Op.106 than in the companion sonata. I suspect that in this case that’s an advantage. A pity because she was a tremendous artist. These performances simply don’t reflect that status at all.
Jonathan Woolf

Comment received:

Re: "A tremendous artist but this will not do..." Jonathan Woolf

There are more than a few madmen within the body of music critics, and, in 37 years in this business, I've met my fair share of them. But someone who listens to a disc with stopwatch in hand and limits himself to the sole criterion of time for judging it? This is a first!! Perhaps this is Mr Woolf's personal way of approaching music - or at least trying? Thank God, Lefébure will remain what she is.... and J.W. too!

Y.Carbou (Solstice)


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