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

APR has recently released the second volume in its series featuring pianists of The French Piano School. The aim is to explore the distinctive style of pianism that emanated from the Paris Conservatoire during its heyday of the first fifty years of the 20th century. The earlier volume focussed on Marius-François Gaillard and Carmen Guilbert (review). This latest issue spotlights two pianists who were students of the famous pedagogue Louis Diémer, namely Victor Staub (1872-1953) and Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964). Their fates were linked in that both became great teachers at the Conservatoire, in addition to boasting distinguished concert careers themselves. They were also great friends. The complete studio recordings of both artists here span almost thirty years. We have Victor Staub's French Odéons (1927-1929) and Lazare-Lévy's HMV, Victor Japan & others (1929-1955). The reissue of Staub's legacy is appearing for the first time.

Victor Staub was actually born in Peru to Swiss-French parents. He studied with both Antoine Marmontel and Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire clinching a first prize on piano in 1888. In 1895 he went head to head with Josef Lhévinne in the Anton Rubinstein prize in Berlin. It was a close fought battle where Lhévinne pipped him to the post in the second round of voting. After five years spent teaching at the conservatory in Cologne, he replaced Edouard Risler as a professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1909, and stayed until 1941. His many students included Marguerite Long and José Iturbi.

Surveying Staub's recordings, they certainly prove to be something of a mixed bag. We open with Le coucou by Louis-Claude Daquin, which is played at such a breakneck speed it is almost unintelligible. Compare his timing (1:20) with that of Lazare-Lévy (2:02). The latter is a joy to listen to. Staub's obsession with speed similarly afflicts Mendelssohn's Spinning Song and the outer sections of Chopin's Waltz in F major, Op. 34 No. 3, which is totally lacking in poise and refinement. The G flat major Waltz, which follows, is in a different league, sensibly paced, elegant and alluring. Of the three pieces from Schumann's Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, no. 2, Aufschwung, and No. 4, Grillen, show the pianist at his best, whilst No. 1, Des Abends, sounds prosaic. Moszkowski's Valse d'amour is a delight, enhanced by some subtle rubato. Staub breathes freshness and new-life into the ubiquitous Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding. For me, however, it's the two pieces by Debussy that are the highlight. From these two pianistic gems one can ascertain that he has a real feel for this composer. It's regrettable he didn't record more Debussy. Two rarities, Rhené-Baton's Fileuses près de Carantec, and his own Sous-bois, Op. 6 give him chance to showcase his seamless virtuosity.

Versatile and multi-faceted best describes Lazare-Lévy, the influential French pianist, organist, composer and pedagogue. Born in Brussels he was enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire at the young age of 12 in 1894, where his teachers were Louis Diémer, André Gedalge, and Albert Lavignac. Contemporaries there included Jacques Thibaud, Alfredo Casella, Maurice Ravel, Alfred Cortot, George Enescu, and Pierre Monteux. He, too, secured a first prize in 1898. As a virtuoso pianist he travelled the globe and taught for many years at the Paris Conservatoire. His distinguished pupils included Clara Haskil, Lukas Foss, Solomon, John Cage and Monique Haas.

A fair portion of Lazare-Lévy's recordings date from after the war when he was in his sixties. Those recorded between 1952 and 1955, I refer to the Mozart Sonatas, are understandably sonically superior. The HMVs are much quieter than the Victor Japan transfers. The Couperin pieces are models of sophistication, stylishly ornamented. The two Chopin mazurkas are outstanding for their rhythmic swing and fantasy. Chabrier's Idylle and Dukas' La plainte, au loin, du faune demonstrate the pianist's deft use of the pedal in conjuring a wealth of tonal hues from the instrument. The small selection of his own compositions reveal some attractive ear-charming morsels. We are fortunate to have three complete Mozart piano sonatas, the last works he set down in the studio. The slow movements of K330 and K310 are beautifully sculpted, whilst the outer movements brim over with boundless energy.

The transfers have been pooled from a variety of sources, and all prove satisfying, bright and vibrant. Frédéric Gaussin’s annotations are exceptionally fine, scholarly and informative. There are some intriguing photographs which positively add to the experience. All told, this release showcases pianism of clarity, brilliance and refinement.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

CD 1 [77:29]
Victor Staub
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

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

CD 2 [74:18]
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



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