Yvonne Lefébure (piano)
String Quartet of Radio-France
SOLSTICE SOCD398-99 [80 + 66]
If this is really to be the final volume in the Yvonne Lefébure Inédits series, it has ended on something of a triumphant note. Many of the recordings in the series derive from the collection held by the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) but this release introduces a cache of music recorded for her student Rémy Stricker’s broadcast series called ‘What Do We Know About Music?’ Fortunately, her verbal commentaries on these works are preserved and have been reproduced in the booklet.
Lefébure was born in 1898 so was in her early 70s when the first in the latest tranche was recorded but 84 when she recorded Bach’s Partita No.6 in October 1982. This last is a particularly fine example of her art. Though she eschews repeats, stripping the music to its essence, the opening Toccata is finely disciplined, and the Gigue finale has no blurring. Even more impressive is the Bach sequence that follows, taped in 1971 for Strickler. Interestingly, her opening bars of “Ich ruf’ zu dir Herr Jesu Christ” introduce music she had sourced from the Schmieder catalogue that were attributed to Bach and though she clearly harboured some doubts that it was actually Bach’s own hand, she still interpolated them. There is considerable nobility in the example she plays from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and in the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV903 one finds virtuosity and amplitude in the ‘Cathedral’ sonorities; vivid and imaginative. In Liszt’s transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543 she particularly relishes the fugal element, dramatically sculpting the left hand. These examples of her Bach playing, including the hyphenated transcription, show her command of sonority in readings of eloquent control.
There are two late Beethoven sonatas, Opp 109 and 100, the first recorded for Stricker in 1971, the second from a live recital in June 1973. In the former she refrains from pressing the tempo in the Vivace ma non troppo and uses expressive rubati in the finale, bringing warmth – as well as balanced chording, to the music. Lightly but precisely pedalled she moves to a final restatement of the opening theme with directness and nobility but throughout at a very fast tempo. Tempi for Op.110 are rather more conventional in this crisp deft performance, not least in the Fuga with which the sonata ends.
The second disc opens with her own charming selection of fifteen Schubert Waltzes and Ländler, the kind of thing Myra Hess also performed, and continues to include a collaboration in the Schumann Piano Quintet with the String Quartet of Radio-France (June 1974), another live recital. This is well-balanced and sounds particularly fine. The robust March, halting and uneasy, presages a vital and energising Scherzo. The Schumann bisects two items that derive from the same concert in which she plays Schubert and make strong reportorial sense. The first is Ravel’s Valses nobles et Sentimentales. Here her dynamics are notable, her playing coloured and contoured, and admirably cogent. Debussy’s Masques (Stricker, performed on New Year’s Day 1971) marries drive with finesse. Finally, Book 1 of Images brings the sequence of performances to end in playfully virtuosic fashion – agile, and stylishly nuanced readings.
The booklet is itself stylish, in French and English, and offers its own fitting envoi to Lefébure in admirable fashion.
Availability: Solstice Music
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830 (c.1717-1723)
Orgelbüchlein: Choral in C Minor, BWV 639 “Ich ruf’ zu dir Herr Jesu Christ”
Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: 8. Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Minor, BWV 853 (1722)
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543 transcribed Franz Liszt
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109 (1820)
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110 (1821)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
15 Waltzes and Ländler
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet, Op. 44 (1842)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Valses nobles et Sentimentales (1912)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Masques, L.105 (1903-04)
Images, Book No. 1, L. 110: I. Reflets dans l’eau: II. Hommage à Rameau: III. Mouvement (1905)