Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Pièces de clavecin Vol. 2 (1724, rev. 1731): L’entretien des muses [4:42] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in C major, K330 (1781-83) [13:19]
Quintet for keyboard, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in B flat, K452
(1784) [17:42] César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Prelude, Fugue and Variations, Op.18 for organ (1860-62), transcr. Harold Bauer [8:40]
Variations symphoniques (1885) [14:17] Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Impresiones intimas (1911-14) [13:22] Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Clair de lune, Op.46 No.2 [3:29]
Pierre Pierlot (oboe): Ulysse Delécluse (clarinet): Gilbert Coursier (horn):
Fernand Oubradous (bassoon)
Orchestra National de France/Tony Aubin
Georges Jouatte (tenor)
rec. 1963, Lausanne Studio 1, Radio Lausanne (Rameau); 1955, Polish Radio, Warsaw (Mozart Sonata and Franck/Bauer); 1951, Lausanne Studio 1, Radio Lausanne (Mompou); 1950, Salle de l’ancien Conservatoire, Paris (Mozart Quintet and Fauré); 1958, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris (Franck Variations) MELOCLASSIC MC1025 [75:33]
I’ve had the opportunity to write about Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964) when reviewing Tahra’s excellent tribute album to the great French pianist and pedagogue. Now Meloclassic appears with a fascinating selection from his concerts and broadcasts given between 1950 and 1963. The restoration of this material is particularly valuable because he made so few commercial recordings.
The Rameau, with which the disc begins, comes from the most recent broadcast, made in Lausanne the year before his death. His playing here is beautifully balanced, with a refined legato and a much stricter metrical sense than a contemporary specialist such as Marcelle Meyer. Whereas her rubati are constant, inflecting the music with tugging back and speeding on, Lazare-Lévy prefers a more moderate modified rapture, infinitely appealing in its judicious dignity. Mozart’s C major sonata, K330 is one of the works he recorded for a Ducretet-Thomson LP  which you can find, coupled with another Mozart sonata from the same LP, on Tahra TAH556-57. A greater sense of the depth of his sonority and its associated colour can be better appreciated on the LP performance, but this Warsaw Radio reading reprises his unaffected and straightforwardly musical playing. Some of this unfussy but deeply impressive musicianship must have been bequeathed to one of his eminent pupils, Solomon, who evinces a similarly unruffled but concentrated approach to Mozart. From the same broadcast comes the Franck Prelude, Fugue and Variations, Op.18, a work written for organ but subsequently arranged for piano by the British pianist Harold Bauer. Lazare-Lévy’s digital control in his early seventies was impressive but even more so his acute perception of cadence and phraseology and arm weight. Only a slightly unfocused studio recording limits optimum appreciation as strangely it’s inferior in that respect to the Mozart.
I couldn’t have been more delighted than to hear his Mompou. He plays the Impresiones intimas, avoiding the composer’s quite dry - but memorable - pianism in his Ensayo set made in 1974 and reissued on Brilliant Classics. There is a strong sense of character and narrative in the Frenchman’s readings, made the more exciting by the rapidity with which he moves from one piece to another. The lack of ‘gaps’ shows how he wanted these nine pieces to be seen as a rich and unfolding paragraph of feelings and expressions, rather than as single static studies in themselves. Very unusually he is almost always quicker than the composer, and almost no one plays them as quickly as Mompou. This is a beautiful performance and for me the highlight of the set. It’s very well recorded.
With this great artist almost everything is a highlight. He is teamed with some eminent colleagues for Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds (Paris, 1950). This is a different kind of performance to that given in 1929 by Czech pianist Erwin Schulhoff and the Taffanel Woodwind Ensemble, an equally well-known group, but no less exciting and decidedly characterful. Bassoonist Fernand Oubradous is full of character in his playing and – a fluff or two aside – Gilbert Coursier makes an impression as the horn player. Lazare-Lévy proves a sensitive ensemble player. He also proves a strongly colourful soloist in the Franck Variations symphoniques, where Tony Aubin conducts the Orchestre National de France in Paris in 1958. The sound spectrum is very good and one can appreciate the glittering treble sonorities of which he was capable. Bars 238-241 are missing but that’s a small matter when set against this level of musicianship. Finally, from 1950, and with tenor Georges Jouatte we hear Lazare-Lévy the sensitive chanson accompanist in Fauré’s Clair de lune.
All lovers of French pianism will react favourably to this splendid release which is made the more so because Meloclassic has now upped its game in terms of presentation. Gone are the tipped in notes. Now we have an elegant eight-page booklet in the digipack with photographs and well-written notes. The livery has now changed colour too. All of which rounds out a compelling portrait of the French pianist as recitalist, soloist, ensemble pianist and accompanist.