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Yvonne Lefébure - Une Légende du Piano
rec. 1951-1983
Complete contents listing below
SOLSTICE SOCD321/44 [24 CDs: 27:23:00]

2016 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the French pianist and pedagogue Yvonne Lefébure (1898-1986). I can think of no more fitting way of commemorating the event than with this 24 CD set from the Solstice/FY label. Founded in 1972, the company adopted the name FY after the initials of its founders Frédéric and Yvette Carbou. The two ‘jewels’ of the label’s catalogue have been the organist Pierre Cochereau and the pianist Yvonne Lefébure. For the last years of her life the pianist recorded exclusively with Solstice and I was interested to read that she had bequeathed her recorded legacy to them. This comprehensive collection comprises the complete Solstice discography, plus a few gems collected from abroad, and several items sourced from the French National Audiovisual Institute.

She studied with Maurice Emmanuel and Charles-Marie Widor at the Paris Conservatoire, in addition to some private tuition from Alfred Cortot, who was credited with being the most profound influence on her playing. She was regarded as a distinguished teacher, counting Dinu Lipatti, Samson François and Imogen Cooper amongst her pupils. She taught at the École Normale de Musique in Paris and later at the Paris Conservatoire. After retirement in 1969 she gave private tuition until her death. Giving concerts and recording took something of a backseat in her career.

Lefébure made quite a hit with conductors, especially Igor Markevitch, Sir Adrian Boult and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1950 when the Prades Festival was established, she was invited by Casals to participate. She made several return visits both to Prades and to the Casals’ Festival at Perpignan. In 1951 she set down a studio recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466, on the back of a concert performance, with the cellist as conductor. It remained unreleased until 1994, when it was issued by Sony, and is included here. The Concerto became something of a speciality for her, and the set offers three performances. The other two are live airings: one with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Furtwängler from Lugano 1954, her only collaboration with the maestro ‘the most beautiful experience I ever had of an orchestral accompaniment...’ and a later 1967 broadcast, courtesy of Radio France, with Pierre Dervaux. In each of the performances Lefébure plays with poise, refinement and classical restraint. Of the three, the 1967 broadcast is the least successful. Dervaux seems to gloss over the opening tutti, failing to probe the music’s darker recesses. Also included is the C minor Concerto K.491, again from Radio France, and taped in 1962 with Fernand Oubradous. It’s a sombre work, and the drama and passion are immediately evident. Mozart's own cadenzas for K491 didn’t survive, and the one she plays in the opening movement I don’t recognize; maybe it’s her own.

The other concerto that featured prominently in her concert repertoire was the Ravel G major, and we are treated to three radio recordings. The earliest is from August 1959 with the Radio Orchestra Beromünster under Jean-Marie Auberson. The other two were taped in 1970 - one dates from 3 March with the Orchestre Philharmonique de l’O.R.T.F. and Paul Paray, the other from 14 March with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Ernest Ansermet. Lefébure had met Ravel whilst still a student, and he offered her advice on playing and interpreting his music. She considered him 'king of orchestrators', and went on to champion the concerto, giving more than a hundred performances of it throughout her career. Listening to these three airings, and those of the solo piano works, leaves the firm impression that she was truly in her comfort zone. The version with Paul Paray is sonically superior to the others. He inspires Lefébure to greater heights, and the infectious energy in the outer movements puts this version in a league of its own. The performance with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Ansermet is sadly flawed by some shabby orchestral ensemble. Apparently, Ravel wasn’t fully satisfied with the way the pianist played Jeux d'eau. She was only a student then. There are two magical performances of it here from 1961 and 1975, which sparkle. Her crystalline touch and diaphanous fingerwork are positive elements. Lefébure commands a formidable technique fully up to the taxing demands the composer makes. Other high points include probing and characterful accounts of the Valses nobles et sentimentales, Tombeau de Couperin and Ma mère l'Oye.

She likewise had some contact with Debussy, who offered her advice on tone production in Jardin sous la pluie (Estampes), utilising a hand position close to the keys. We are fortunate to have both Book I and Book II of the Préludes dating from 1970 and 1963 respectively. These evocative miniatures, each an impressionist painting in sound, are imbued with an array of pastel shades, a combination of sensitive touch and instinctive pedalling. Le vent dans la plaine truly evokes the wind on the plain, with Les collines d’Anacapri etched with exotic tints. There’s a haunting quality to La Cathédrale engloutie, with the climax sensitively managed. La danse de Puck is skittish and fun-loving. My favourite amongst her Debussy recordings are the two books of Images from the early 1980s. There’s some ravishing playing, benefiting from subtle dynamic gradients, and extreme sensitivity to nuance. Reflets dans l’eau (Book I), is fluid and supple, with the rippling water effects vibrant and coruscating. She captures the bell-like sonorities in Cloches à travers les feuilles, Book II). Poissons d’or (Book II) is characterful and effervescent. There’s also a performance of L’Isle Joyeuse which radiates exuberance.

It was Gabriel Fauré who said that Lefébure '... is born for Beethoven', and performances of the latter’s music constitute a relatively large portion of the set, five CDs in all. It's a pity there's only one concerto example, a 1959 broadcast from INA of the Fourth with the Orchestre National de France directed by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. It's a deeply spiritual account of passionate intensity, in this the most personal of his five concertos. There's a portentous feeling of foreboding in the slow movement, and a dazzling finale to set the seal on an enlightening voyage of discovery. Such is the chemistry between conductor and soloist, it makes one regret that they didn't set down a complete cycle together. In the Hammerklavier she eschews the barnstorming approach favoured by Schnabel. There's a searching intimacy in the slow movement, and I love the way she instinctively manages the transition into the final movement, allowing the music to unfold naturally and in an unforced way. The last three sonatas are sublime, and Lefébure gives inspired, visionary accounts of these late scores. Each is informed by an understanding of the architecture, structure and sense of direction of the work. We are fortunate to have two versions of each. The Diabelli Variations are technically brilliant and brimming with infectious energy, with each variation well characterized. It's regrettable that she didn't play the repeats. It's a personal decision an artist has to make, whether or not to observe the exposition repeat in the sonatas. At the end of the day it's a question of personal taste, prevailing musical fashion, and timing. I personally favour hearing the repeats in Beethoven piano sonatas, as well as in the Haydn F minor Variations, another recording here shorn of them. Listeners will have to decide for themselves. Many will welcome the collaboration between the pianist and Hungarian violinist Sándor Végh in a live recital of Beethoven Violin Sonatas from 1970. It's a partnership built on mutual respect and a shared vision. The performances sound well-rehearsed, as there's careful matching of phrasing and dynamics. The success is registered by the enthusiastic applause at the end of each sonata. Of the two Schubert Sonatas included, it’s the Sonata in B flat major, D 960 which steals the show for its profundity and spiritual depth. It benefits greatly from the satisfyingly engineered sound and beautifully voiced piano of the Solstice recording from 1979.

For me, Lefébure’s Bach playing casts a bewitching spell, and Solstice offer a plentiful supply to relish. There's a persuasive account of the D minor Concerto with Fernand Oubradous from 1957, a radio recording in superb sound. It's a nimble-fingered traversal, with crystal-clear passagework and articulation. Tempi feel just right, with the outer movements compellingly alive. There are two Partitas, nos. 1 and 6. The Sixth Partita is outstanding for its emphasis on drama; it sounds almost orchestral. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, one of her last recorded documents from 1979, is technically dazzling, encompassing both dramatic and reflective elements. There's a freshness and spontaneity and, most of all, an improvisatory feel throughout. In the Fugue, the contrapuntal strands are teased out with pristine clarity. The Choral Jesu bleibet meine Freude, in the transcription by Myra Hess, is a pleasing addition, as is that other magical miniature: the Sicilienne from the Organ Concerto BWV 596, in Lefébure’s own marvellous arrangement.

Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto is represented by three versions. Each is a rhythmically vital performance, combining poetry and emotional intensity. The conversational character of the Intermezzo is all the better for some intimate exchanges between piano and orchestra. In the finale there’s a fair measure of ebullient audacity. Of the three readings, it’s the version conducted by Georges Sébastian that I like the least. It’s a ragged performance where ensemble comes unstuck a couple of times. His pedestrian conducting doesn't help. Paray and Dervaux conduct the other two readings. In Schumann’s solo piano music Lefébure brings devotion, poetic insights and scrupulous musicianship, the same qualities I find in Cortot’s playing. The Fantasie Op. 17, courtesy of Radio France (1971), opens with grand gesture and romantic sweep. The dotted rhythms of the second movement convey no signs of monotony. In the finale, Lefébure creates a mood of otherworldliness. Kinderszenen and Davidsbündlertänze were both recorded for Solstice in 1977, and are informed by the wisdom of a long life. Stylish, beguiling and seductive, they are a constant wonder. She achieves some beautifully rich sonorities and an array of tonal colour, guaranteeing these two performances stand shoulder to shoulder with the best. There are two versions of the Posthumous Variations, the five discarded variations which Brahms salvaged for the Symphonic Études op. 13 after the composer’s death.

I was surprised how little Chopin the pianist recorded. What we have here are five mazurkas and three of the 'big' solo pieces. Lefébure’s Barcarolle is aristocratic and masterly, and the voicing of chords displays a sensitivity for touch and timbre. The Fourth Ballade benefits from a clarity of contrapuntal texture, with rubato judiciously applied. In the fiendishly devilish coda she brings both impetuousness and ecstasy as the darker forces unfold. The five jewel-like mazurkas are expressively nuanced, leaving one regretting that she didn’t give us more. Fauré is represented by a selection of his solo piano music. The group of Nocturnes I enjoyed the most. She plays these attractive pieces with poise and refinement, revealing their innermost lyricism. In the Thème et Variations op. 73, she explores the contrasting moods of each variation. However, when it comes to Fauré’s solo piano music, it is the wonderful legacy of Germaine Thyssens-Valentin that remains the benchmark for me.

The set offers some rarities too. Henry Barraud and Henri Martelli were near contemporaries of the pianist. Barraud's Concerto and Martelli's Cinq Dances are both neo-classical in style. The Concerto has a languorous central movement framed by two amiable extrovert movements. Martelli's are five contrasting miniatures, given stirring readings. The added value of these is that, as far as I can ascertain, they have never been recorded elsewhere. Maurice Emmanuel taught her at the Paris Conservatoire. His Sonatinas are highly original conceptions, brimming with warmth and a surfeit of melody. Lefébure’s technical skill and achievement of burnished sonorities is a winning element. I've known these scintillating pieces a while via Laurent Wagschal's admirable accounts on Timpani (ICI1194). She’s also joined by Ulysse Delécluse (clarinet) and René Le Roy (flute) for the composer’s Sonatine Op. 11.

For those who understand French and want to hear the great lady herself in conversation, CD 24 offers three recorded interviews, taped in the mid-seventies and early eighties.

François and Yvette Carbou of Solstice Records are to be lauded for this superb retrospective of Yvonne Lefébure’s recorded legacy. A bonus is the excellent, informative documentation in the form of a 59 page booklet. It contains a substantial biographical portrait of the pianist by Frédéric Gaussin, with some delightful black and white photographs. There are also transcripts of CD 24’s three interviews. The text of the booklet is in French and English, conveniently formatted adjacently. Solstice have used their original cover art work for the individual CD card cases, and very attractive they are too. Lovers of French pianism, indeed pianophiles in general, will find this set indispensable. It has certainly given me many hours of listening pleasure.

Stephen Greenbank
Contents listing:
CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto pour piano K466 (Casals)
Sonate K457
Concerto pour piano K491 (Oubradous)

CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Concerto pour piano et orchestre op. 54 (Dervaux)
Papillons op. 2
Fantaisie op. 17

CD 3
Jean Sébastien BACH (1685-1750)
Prélude et Fugue BWV 543
Choral "Ich ruf zu dir" BWV 639
Fantaisie et Fugue BWV 542
Choral "Jesu bleibet meine freude" BWV 147
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Concerto pour piano K466 (Furtwängler)

CD 4
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonate No. 30 op. 109
Sonate No. 31 op. 110
Diabelli Variations op. 120

CD 5
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Concerto pour piano et orchestra (Auberson)
Le Tombeau de Couperin op. 68
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La boîte à joujoux

CD 6
Jean Sébastien BACH
Concerto BWV 1052 (Oubradous)
Prélude et Fugue BWV 848
Partita No. 6 BWV 830

CD 7
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Sonate pour piano & violon K379
Fantaisie K396
Fantaisie K475
Variations "Ah ! Vous dirais-je maman" K265
Concerto pour piano K466 (Dervaux)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Variations op. H XVII/6

CD 8
Concerto pour piano No. 4 op. 58 (Skrowaczewski)
Sonate No. 1 op. 2
Bagatelles op. 119

CD 9
Sonate No. 29 "Hammerklavier" op. 106
33 Variations Diabelli op. 120

CD 10
Sonate No. 30 op. 109
Sonate No. 31 op. 110
Sonate No. 32 op. 111
6 Bagatelles op. 126
Bagatelle no. 3 op. 33
Bagatelle "pour Elise"
Sonate No. 8 "Pathétique" (mvt. 1 only) op. 13

CD 11
Préludes (livre II)
Maurice RAVEL
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
6ème Nocturne op. 63
13ème Nocturne op. 119
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
15 Valses et Ländler

CD 12
Préludes (livre I)
Etude pour les arpèges composés
Etude pour les sonorités opposées
François COUPERIN (1668 - 1733)
Les Baricades Mistérieuses
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Gavotte et 6 doubles
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
Variations, Interlude et Finale

CD 13
Maurice RAVEL
Concerto pour piano et orchestra (Ansermet)
Jeux d'eau op. 30
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Le Tombeau de Couperin op. 68
Gabriel FAURÉ
Thème et Variations op. 73
13ème Nocturne op. 119

CD 14
Sonate No. 19 op. D 958
Concerto pour piano et orchestre op. 54 (Sébastian)
Carl Maria Von WEBER
L'invitation à la valse op. op.65

CD 15
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzo op. 119/1
Intermezzo op. 118/6
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Ballade op. S 178
La Lugubre Gondole No. 2 op. S 200
Chant des fileuses op. S 273
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka op. 41/2
Mazurka op. 17/4
Mazurka op. 7/5
Mazurka op. 56/2
Mazurka op. 7/3
Barcarolle op. 60
Scherzo No. 2 op. 31
Ballade No. 4 op. 52
Variations Posth. op. 13

CD 16
Sonate pour violon et piano No. 3 op. 12/3
Sonate pour violon et piano No. 4 op. 23
Sonate pour violon et piano No. 6 (mvt. 2) op. 30/1
Sonate pour violon et piano No. 10 op. 96

CD 17
Maurice RAVEL
Concerto pour piano et orchestra (Paray)
Concerto pour piano et orchestre op. 54 (Paray)
Scènes d'enfants op. 15

CD 18
Gabriel FAURÉ
Thème et Variations op. 73
7ème Nocturne op. 74
1er Nocturne op. 33/1
2ème Impromptu op. 31
12ème Nocturne op. 107
5ème Impromptu op. 102
Variations, Interlude et Finale
Prélude elégiaque

CD 19
Images (1er Livre)
Images (2e Livre)
L'Isle joyeuse
Maurice EMMANUEL (1862-1938)
Sonatine IV
Sonatine III
Sonatine VI

CD 20
Maurice RAVEL
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Le Tombeau de Couperin op. 68
Jeux d'eau op. 30
Ma Mère l'Oye

CD 21
Sonate No. 21 op. D 960
Impromptu op. D 935, 142/2
Davidsbündlertänze op. 6
Variations Posth. op. 13

CD 22
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Mikrokosmos - VI. (6 Danses dans le rythme bulgare)
Henry BARRAUD (1900-1997)
Concerto pour piano (1939)
Henri MARTELLI (1895-1980)
Cinq Danses op. 47 (1941)
Sonatines op. 11 & 20
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
3 Pièces Op. 49

CD 23
Jean Sébastien BACH
Prélude et fugue BWV 543
Fantaisie chromatique et fugue BWV 903
Toccata BWV 912,
Partita no.  1 BWV 825
Prélude et fugue I, 8 du Clavier bien tempéré
Sicilienne du Concerto BWV 596
3 Chorals

CD 24
Entretien avec Bernard Deutsch (1981)
Entretien avec Laurent Asselineau suivi d’un cours d’interprétation (1978) Radioscopie avec Jacques Chancel (1976)
Participating artists:
Sandor VEGH
Gersende DE SABRAN



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