Yvonne Lefébure (piano)
Inédits (Unissued Recordings) Vol. 5
rec. 1971-1982
Solstice SOCD 398/99 [148]

Solstice are to be lauded for keeping the candle burning for the recorded legacy of French pianist Yvonne Lefébure (1898-1986). Yvette Carbou, the producer of this recording, told me that this is the last issue in the series, adding “In this ultimate opus, we see her as she always has been: her spirit and passion intact”. This is the fifth volume in the series. I had the pleasure of reviewing Volume 4 a couple of years ago. I also reviewed a 24 CD set that Solstice put out titled Yvonne Lefébure – Une Légende du Piano (1951-1983).

The recordings that constitute Volume 5 are drawn from the Lefébure collection at the INA (National Audiovisual Institute). Housed in the archive were a series of broadcasts titled “What do We Know About Music?” and described in the publicity as “a sort of panorama of piano literature”. It was the brainchild of Rémy Stricker, a pupil of the pianist.

CD 1 opens with a spectacular performance of Bach’s Sixth Partita in E minor. The opening Toccata is exhilarating and conveys a great sense of improvisation. The Corrente’s forward moving rhythm carries you along, with the Sarabande having a natural exploratory feel. The work ends with a heavily counterpointed Gigue. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is fully assured in terms of improvisatory rhetoric and contrapuntal clarity. In Liszt’s transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 Lefébure projects both a sense of abandon and fantasy, with the articulation in the fugue benefiting from her crisp articulation.

The traversals of the two late Beethoven Sonatas, Op. 109 and Op. 110 predate by about five years the performances of the same two found in the multi-CD Yvonne Lefébure – Une Légende du Piano. Both sonatas interpretatively align with the later versions, and I make the same comment that I made in the review of the box set, namely that it’s disappointing that both are shorn of repeats. To my mind, this adversely affects the variation movement in Op. 109 and, in consequence I wouldn’t look to Lefébure for a satisfying performance of these works. That’s a purely personal view, and listeners will have to decide for themselves.

Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Op. 44 is one of his finest creations, and has gained great popularity over the years. This is due to its upbeat and exuberant character and melodic largesse. Lefébure joins forces with the Radio-France Quartet for this riveting performance taped on 27 June 1974. The opening movement has all the exhilaration and muscularity you could ask for. The second movement offers some contrast with its funereal tread, enhanced by some effective hushed moments. The Scherzo is punchy and incisive. This compelling performance is capped with a finale of wild abandon.

There’s masterful control of colour in Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales. Throughout the seven waltzes, approached with affection, Lefébure conveys effectively their charm and Viennese lilt. I also like the way she emphasizes the bold harmonies. Debussy’s Images (Book 1) is no less colourful in the pianist’s hands. Reflets dans l’eau evokes the rippling water to perfection. This is followed by Hommage à Rameau, which harks back to Jean-Claude Rameau’s 1737 Castor and Pollux. Here it’s delivered with poise and refinement. Finally, Mouvement swirls with rhythmic precision. The reading is enhanced by the pianist’s spectacular dynamic range. A measure of the success of this terrific performance is reflected in the enthusiastic applause the audience give Lefébure.

The recordings span a period of just over ten years from 1971 to 1982. All are in excellent sound quality, with interpretations of the first rank. The substantial liner notes, in French and English, include an interview between Rémy Stricker and the pianist, in which she shares her thoughts on the works performed. The recorded legacy of Lefébure will prove a valuable treasure to lovers of great pianism.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf (January 2023)

Availability: Solstice

CD 1
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830
Choral in C Minor, BWV 639 “Ich ruf’ zu dir Herr Jesu Christ”
Well-Tempered Keyboard, Book 1: 8. Prelude and Fugue in E-Flat Minor, BWV 853
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543 (Liszt transcription)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat Major, Op. 110

CD 2
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
15 Waltzes and Ländler
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet, Op. 44*
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Masques, L. 105

Radio-France Quartet*