Lazare-Lévy

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Lazare-Lévy ’s recordings of the classical piano repertoire document the highest artistic standing and, as such, take an immovable place in the history of pianism. He was a pupil of Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire and was in turn to rise to a comparable eminence as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of Parisian teachers. These are both radio studio and live recordings from 1950 until 1963 which have until now remained unpublished. They reflect very accurately his strongest reportoirial strengths.

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LAZARE-LÉVY plays Rameau, Mozart, Franck, Mompou and Fauré

1. Rameau: L’Entretien des muses [04:42]
Recorded ∙ 23 October 1963 ∙ Lausanne ∙ Studio 1 ∙ Radio Lausanne ∙ Radio Studio Recording

2-4. Mozart: Piano Sonata in C major, KV.330 [13:19]
I. Allegro moderato [04:05]
II. Andante cantabile [05:52]
III. Allegro [03:21]
Recorded ∙ 20 March 1955 ∙ Warsaw ∙ Polskie Radio ∙ Live Recording

5. Franck/Bauer: Prélude, Fugue et Variations op. 18 [08:40]
Recorded ∙ 20 March 1955 ∙ Warsaw ∙ Polskie Radio ∙ Live Recording

6-14. Mompou: Impresiones intimas ∙ 1914 original edition [13:22]
I. Plany 1 [00:45]
II. Plany 2 [00:52]
III. Plany 3 [00:25]
IV. Plany 4 [01:18]
V. Pájaro Triste [02:05]
VI. La Barca [01:10]
VII. Cuna [01:50]
VIII. Secreto [01:57]
IX. Gitano [02:57]
Recorded ∙ 03 June 1951 ∙ Lausanne ∙ Studio 1 ∙ Radio Lausanne ∙ Radio Studio Recording

15-17. Mozart: Quintet in E-flat Major for piano and winds, KV.452 [17:42]
I. Largo – Allegro moderato [06:55]
II. Larghetto [05:49]
III. Allegretto [04:57]
Lazare Lévy (pn) ∙ Pierre Pierlot (ob) ∙ Ulysse Delécluse (cl) ∙ Gilbert Coursier (hrn) ∙ Fernand Oubradous (bsn)
Recorded ∙ 12 February 1950 ∙ Paris ∙ Salle de l’ancien Conservatoire ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

18-19. Franck: Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra [14:17]
Lazare Lévy (pn) ∙ Orchestre National de France ∙ Tony Aubin (conductor)
Note: bars 238-241 missing
Recorded ∙ 06 March 1958 ∙ Paris ∙ Théâtre des Champs-Elysées ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

20. Fauré: Clair de lune, Op. 46, No. 2 [03:29]
Lazare Lévy (pn) ∙ Georges Jouatte (tenor)
Recorded ∙ 12 February 1950 ∙ Paris ∙ Salle de l’ancien Conservatoire ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

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Lazare-Lévy ’s recordings of the classical piano repertoire document the highest artistic standing and, as such, take an immovable place in the history of pianism. He was a pupil of Louis Diémer at the Paris Conservatoire and was in turn to rise to a comparable eminence as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of Parisian teachers. These are both radio studio and live recordings from 1950 until 1963 which have until now remained unpublished. They reflect very accurately his strongest reportoirial strengths.

Lazare-Lévy (1882-1964) a composer, influential pedagogue, organist and piano virtuoso, Lazare Lévy (the hyphen came later) was born in Brussels of French parents who had fled their native Moselle in order not to become Prussian citizens after Bismarck defeated the French in 1871 and occupied this part of the country. Lazare-Lévy’s talent was first discovered by an elegant Parisian lady who heard the 11 year-old blondish boy play Chopin’s Grande Polonaise in the hat shop Lazare’s sister Jeannette owned in Paris, near the Louvre Museum. Diémer soon supervised the young boy’s studies at the Paris Conservatoire, where Lazare-Lévy received a Premier Prix in 1898. The pianist also studied harmony with Lavignac and counterpoint with Gédalge. Among his comrades and early music partners were Casella, Cortot, Enesco, Monteux, Ravel, and Thibaud. At age twenty, Lazare-Lévy made his début récital at the Concerts Colonne, under Colonne’s baton, in Schumann’s A-minor piano concerto. Lazare-Lévy premiered works by French composers of his time, including Dukas and Milhaud. He was also an early champion of Albéniz, whose Iberia (Book I) he played in 1911. Lazare-Lévy shared a warm and friendly relationship with his elder peers Harold Bauer, Paderewski, Philipp, and Planté.

Planté – who often invited him to his St. Avit home to play and play: as his grandson recalls, they went on till the younger Lazare-Lévy tired out. On the other hand, he never managed to get along with the deeply Catholic Viñes, who in 1899 ended up quarrelling with his fellow countryman Albeniz, a defender of Dreyfus. In the front row of Lazare-Lévy’s earliest recitals was Saint-Saëns, who made it a point “to boost the young man’s career.” Saint-Saëns considered him to possess “that rare union of technical perfection and musicality.” As he underlined in a letter to the pianist written in 1903, “I doubt one could play a better Chopin than you do. As for the Etude en forme de valse, nobody can – and I am sure of this, being the composer of the piece!” Lazare-Lévy’s daughter-in-law recalls Saint-Saëns wanting him to perform only his own works. Saint-Saëns also introduced him to Algiers, where the composer, shortly before his death, attended Lazare-Lévy’s 1921 début recital. Lazare-Lévy performed Saint-Saëns’ works (the Fifth Concerto above all) throughout Europe, Israel, and Japan, along with Franck’s Variations Symphoniques and the Schubert-Liszt Wanderer Fantasy. In his twenty-fifth year, Lazare-Lévy co-authored a Méthode Supérieure for piano published by Diémer (whose assistant he became), though he would later advocate a much more personal and innovative piano technique, involving more hand and arm technique than pure finger technique, with the cushioned part of the fingers going deeply into the key.

He hated a thin sound and never made his students practice in dotted rhythms or with the hand held like a conch shell. He hated curved fingers on the keyboard in the Marguerite Long style; nor did he play octaves from the wrist with a motionless arm. He learned a great deal from Busoni, whose portrait, given to him by the musician, he kept above his piano. Yvonne Loriod summed up his approach: find the best fingering (he had a wonderful sense for it), liberate the hands, use the thumb correctly and, above all, use the natural weight of the arm. To him, music came first. His art was based upon legato and a sense of cantabile. He simply ignored students who were not musically gifted and railed against musical distortion, so-called “traditions” and egotism in music. Lazare-Lévy was a distinguished professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire, first as a temporary teacher (1914-16 and 1921-3) and then as Cortot’s successor (1923-41; reappointed 1944-53). His pupils include such luminaries as the pianists Monique Haas, Clara Haskil, Solomon, Alexandre Uninsky, and Madeleine de Valmalete, organist Marcel Dupré, and composers John Cage, Lukas Foss, and Oskar Morawetz, to name but a few. The American composer John Cage was once introduced to Lazare-Lévy. Lévy was surprised that this young American had no knowledge of Bach or Mozart. Cage recalled: “He accepted me as a pupil, but I only took two lessons. I could see that his teaching would lead to technical accomplishment, but I wasn’t really interested in that. Meanwhile he sent me to a Bach festival, where I finally discovered Bach.”

Lazare-Lévy toured throughout Europe, in Africa and Asia. His strong personality made him reject the most listened-to piano pieces favored by his peers. He was almost the only French pianist of his time to play Scriabin in public and probably one the first to defend all Schubert’s keyboard music and even Brahms’, teaching them extensively. A prominent Viennese critic noted in 1930: “Lazare-Lévy takes his place among the most powerful talents of the piano”. The Second World War took a terrible toll on Lazare-Lévy and his family. As a Jew in occupied France, his life was held in balance yet he survived only through constant movement and vigilance, hiding, adopting aliases and using false papers. The Conservatoire position he’d held was nevertheless given to Marcel Ciampi and Lazare-Lévy never recovered it. He tried in vain to emigrate to the United States. His youngest son, Phillipe, a prominent resistance fighter, was betrayed to the Gestapo by two French Nazi collaborators, captured, then transferred to the Drancy concentration camp where he was recognised as a Jew and tortured by SS officer Alois Brunner. His captured son died in Auschwitz along with 17 or 19 members of their family.

All his life Lazare-Lévy was close to prominent figures in literary, musical and political circles: among his close friends were Edwin Fischer, André Marchal, Rachmaninoff, the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, and André Malraux. A very discreet and humble man, he nevertheless played with the greatest conductors of his time: Inghelbrecht, Mitropoulos, Monteux, Munch, Paray, and Weingartner. Not interested at all in recording discs, he left only a few 78s and a pair of Mozart sonatas on LP. Quite shy and nervous (he suffered from terrible stage-fright), he would try to imagine that the first row of the audience were only wearing underpants! Cortot’s disciple Blanche Bascourret de Gueraldi (1896-1983), an eminent pedagogue who studied at the Conservatoire from 1909-13 and later served as répétitrice to Lazare-Lévy in one of the school’s advanced piano classes, observed that there was a world of difference between Cortot’s teaching and Lazare-Levy’s. Cortot was very romantic, whereas Lazare-Lévy was a classicist and was rather critical of certain aspects of Cortot’s style. In his opinion, Alfred Cortot exaggerated. Lazare-Lévy had a different conception of music. His philosophy was: “Leave the music alone.” He said this very frequently to his pupils. “Add nothing. Read the music very observantly, do all the performance markings indicated by the composer, but do not add. Never forget that you have a group of ten fingers and not two separate hands!”

Bascourret observed, that Lazare-Lévy had an amazing ear, and many decades after those early coaching lessons he could sit down at my piano and give an uncanny imitation of Cortot’s style of playing. Lazare-Lévy may have been reiterating Diémer’s philosophy when he argued that too much intellectualizing and physiological analysis can be harmful to the very gifted: “With geniuses of the piano, … who at ten or twelve show such gifts that they seem to have been born to play the instrument, [one] has only to let them blossom, to guide them without getting bogged down in the tyrannical application of principles, however excellent. To make such persons conscious of that which is purely instinctive is risky …. To point out too clearly the obstacles, the dangers, is often to replace assurance with fear…. Make them learn in the shortest possible time an ever greater number of pieces, that’s the best course of action.”

The scarcity of testimonies, even of the anecdotal sort, suggests that Diémer’s teaching was on the whole unmemorable. Lazare-Lévy wrote in his obituary of Édouard Risler that in later years most of Diémer’s former students turned their backs on him once he was no longer of use to them in advancing their careers.

Notes by Frédéric Gaussin, © 2014

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Article number: MC 1025
UPC barcode: 791154054017
Recording dates: 1950-1963
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 75:33

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Frédéric Gaussin
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Frédéric Gaussin Collection
With special thanks to Frédéric Gaussin
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic