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Yvonne Lefébure (piano)
Unissued Recordings - Volume 4
rec. 1949-1986
SOLSTICE SOCD389/90 [57:59 + 48:57]

The French label Solstice has done much to champion the recorded legacy of pianist Yvonne Lefébure (1898-1986). In 2016, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of her death, they issued a mammoth 24 CD retrospective entitled Yvonne Lefébure - Une Légende du Piano, which I had the good fortune to review, awarding it a Recording of the Month. For a bit of background, 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 back seat in her career. This latest release is the fourth volume in the label’s Yvonne Lefébure – Unissued Recordings series.

I’ve only ever heard Bach’s Concerto in D minor after Vivaldi performed on the organ, so it’s intriguing to hear it played on the piano. The transcription is by Lefébure herself. The opening Allegro grows from the bass of the piano and the sonorities achieved are very organ-like. In the Fuga, the polyphonic lines are teased out with clarity and definition, and I love the way Lefébure builds up the textures. The Largo e spiccato is sublimely realized, and the final Allegro is dispatched with gusto and vigour, bringing the work to a memorable close.

Lefébure was renowned for her Beethoven playing. I’ve never taken to it, as she never played repeats, stating in justification “I can’t resolve to say the same thing twice in a row”. That said, her 1971 recording of the Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 in this collection is one of the finest I’ve heard. Repeats only occur in the Allegro molto second movement and thankfully she observes them. The brooding Adagio is full of doubt and despair, and the fugal section is expertly voiced.

There’s a substantial Chopin section. The Mazurkas, seven in all, are elegant and restrained, with rubato tastefully applied.  They cover a wide emotional range from the wistful longing of Op. 17 No. 4, to the playful charm of Op. 7 No. 5. The Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31 is delivered with effortless virtuosity

There’s a thrilling performance of Dukas’ Variations, Interlude and Finale on a Theme by Rameau. The diversity of the variations range from a somber chorale to one of capricious flights of fancy. The recording of Albert Roussel’s Trois Pièces, Op. 49 dates from June 1949. They were dedicated to and premiered by Robert Casadesus. All three pieces emphasize rhythm, woven into a fabric of acerbic harmony. The third and longest piece has a jazzy feel enveloped in a Gallic swirl.

Lefébure partners Jeanne Gautier (1898–1974) in a stunning performance of the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Ravel. A pupil of Henri Berthelier at the Paris Conservatoire, Gautier belonged to a great tradition of French violinists which included Henry Merckel, Ginette Neveu and Michèle Auclair. Lefébure and Gautier, together with André Levy, formed the Trio de France, devoting themselves to French and contemporary music. They deliver a stylish and idiomatic reading. Gautier’s sensual portamenti add spicy flavor to the blues movement. With caution thrown to the wind, the performance brims over with vitality and élan.

The superb remasterings come courtesy of Christophe Hénault of Studio Art and Son. The annotations in French and English include an interview the pianist gave to Anne Rey shortly before her death. All told this is a valuable collection showcasing the artistry of a great pianist.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [57:59]
Johann Sebastian Bach
Organ Concerto after Vivaldi in D Minor, BWV 596
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110
Franz Schubert
Waltzes from albums D. 365, D. 779, D. 790
Frédéric Chopin
Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17 No. 4
Mazurka in G Minor, Op. 24 No. 1
Mazurka in C Major, Op. 56 No. 2
Mazurka in F Minor, Op. 68 No. 4
Mazurka in C Major, Op. 24 No. 2
Mazurka in C Major, Op. 7 No. 5
Mazurka No. 42 in A Minor (to Émile Gaillard)
Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31
Waltz No. 14 in E Minor

CD 2 [48:57]
Gabriel Fauré
Nocturne No. 11 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 104 No. 1
Nocturne No. 13 in B Minor, Op. 119
Paul Dukas
Variations, Interlude et Finale sur un thème de Rameau
Albert Roussel
Three Pieces, Op. 49
Maurice Ravel
Sonata for Violin & Piano
with Jeanne Gautier (violin)

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