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The French Piano School: Lazare-Lévy and Victor Staub
The Complete Studio Recordings
rec. 1927-1955
APR 6028 [77:29+74:18]

The second volume in APR’s French Piano School series is devoted to Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964) and the less-well remembered Victor Staub (1872-1953). The twofer contains their complete studio recordings but it’s fortunate that the younger man, Lazare-Levy, was recorded during concerts. Both Tahra (review review) and Meloclassic have released discs that contain both the studio and the broadcast elements of his legacy but Staub, however, being older and having retired earlier was not so fortunate.

Both pianists were students of Louis Diémer at the Conservatoire in Paris, at which institution they too became teachers. But Staub and Lazare-Lévy had the distinction of officially standing in for Diémer and for co-authoring his treatise on piano playing. Staub came from a Swiss-French Basque background but was born in Peru where his family had emigrated. However, he pursued studies back in France and embarked on a distinguished career. As an interesting footnote he was the only French pianist to perform under Mahler’s baton. Personal tragedies led to a withdrawal from public performance but after war service (1914-19) he reappeared and seems to have been active for a further decade. He retired from teaching in 1941.

Interestingly in his book on the subject of French Pianists Charles Timbrell, who writes the introduction to APR’s series, is pretty contemptuous of Staub terming him a ‘prosaic miniaturist’. Timbrell is an acknowledged figure in the field but I can’t share his lack of enthusiasm. I find Staub full of flair and clarity in his Daquin, imaginative in his voicings, astute in pedaling. His Chopin Waltz in G flat major sings and his Moszkowski Valse d’amour teases in its rubato. He has a personal slant on Sinding’s evergreen Rustle of Spring whilst his Debussy is characterful and valuable as is the sole example of his Ravel, the Rigaudon from Le tombeau de Couperin. His exploration of genre pieces is just as engaging, not least Rhené-Baton’s Fileuses près de Carantec, brilliantly articulated and projected, and the only piece of his own that he recorded, Sous-bois. In terms of extensive coverage, the three pieces from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke represent his largest-scale recording though when one considers how slender is his legacy that’s not surprising. The discs were made in June 1927 and January 1929. They retain plenty of surface noise and some swish but are uncommon and I’m not aware that they have been collected en bloc before; there’s a touch of wow on Frühlingsnacht. They’re not presented in chronological order but are composer-grouped.

Lazare-Lévy is far better-known as a look at previous reviews will show. His studio recordings span the years 1929-55 but he was an irregular in the studios and it’s certainly been important to have this studio legacy augmented by live recitals. Mozart’s Fantasia K475 was recorded in 1931 and has its complement of romanticised phrasing. It’s fortunate that he could record Chabrier’s Sous-bois and Idylle from the set of Pièces pittoresques as he was so masterful a performer of this repertoire. Seek out the live 1955 recording of the Scherzo-Valse from the same set on Tahra. Dukas’ La plainte, au loin, du faune is hauntingly voiced and a charged atmosphere grips Roussel’s Sicilienne. His own Preludes, three from a set of twenty, were recorded in 1929. This seems to be a rarer disc from its rather noisy state but reflects the composer’s deft imaginative conception.

His Couperin is determinedly pianistic, shot through with imagination and verve, his Schumann unaffected and the few examples of his Chopin show a decided affinity. The off-beat numbers are the three pieces made on the so-called Sienna piano, about which you can read in the booklet, though much about this bizarre instrument has been debunked of late. These recordings have been reissued for the first time – Couperin, Daquin, Debussy (La cathédrale engloutie: not a wise choice, to be frank) – and were made in Tel-Aviv in December 1951 on an instrument that sounds like a very unwell harpsichord.

As I wrote in a Tahra review, his Mozart is direct and serious; there are three sonatas here, K310 being from a Pathé session of 1955 and the one not included on the Tahra set. Tahra’s transfer is cut at a higher level but APR’s disguises surface noise better.

There is an extensive and excellent biographical booklet essay from Frédéric Gaussin complete with finely reproduced photographs. There is not much specifically about the performances, which distinguishes it from the opening volume (see review). There is plenty more to come in this series, which has been produced to a very high standard.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing:
Daquin: Le Coucou
Mendelssohn: Song without Words, Op. 67 No. 4 in C major 'Spinning Song' or 'Bee's Wedding'
Chopin: Waltz No. 4 in F major 'Grande Valse Brillante', Op. 34 No. 3
Chopin: Waltz No. 11 in G flat major, Op. 70 No. 1
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 1 'Des Abends'
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 2 'Aufschwung'
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 4 'Grillen'
Liszt: Frühlingsnacht (after Schumann, Op. 39 No. 12), S568
Moszkowski: Liebeswalzer, Op. 57 No. 5
Sinding: Frühlingsrauschen (Rustle of Spring), Op. 32 No 3
Debussy: Golliwog's Cakewalk (from Children's Corner)
Debussy: Préludes - Book 1: No. 12, Minstrels
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin: Rigaudon
Rhené-Baton: Fileuses près de Carantec
Staub: Sous-bois
Victor Staub (piano)

Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K475
Chabrier: Sous-bois (No. 4 from Pièces pittoresques)
Chabrier: Idylle (No. 6 from Pièces pittoresques)
Debussy: Masques
Dukas: La plainte, au loin, du faune
Roussel: Sicilienne
Lévy: Prelude No. 1
Lévy: Prelude No. 2
Lévy: Prelude No. 5
Lévy: Valses
Couperin, F: Pièces de clavecin III: Ordre 13ème in B minor: Les Lis naissans
Couperin, F: Pièces de clavecin III: Ordre 13ème in B minor: Les rozeaux
Schubert: Impromptu in A flat major, D935 No. 2
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 No. 1 'Des Abends'
Schumann: Traumes Wirren (Fantasiestucke, Op. 12 No. 7)
Chopin: Mazurka No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 6 No. 2
Chopin: Mazurka No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 50 No. 2
Couperin, F: Pièces de clavecin III: Ordre 13ème in B minor: Les rozeaux
Daquin: Le Coucou
Debussy: Préludes - Book 1: No. 10, La cathédrale engloutie
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major, K330
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K331 'Alla Turca'
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K310
Lazare-Levy (piano)

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