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Lélia Gousseau

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As a celebrated pupil of the icon Lazare-Lévy, Lélia Gousseau was a major performer from the 1930s to 1950s and beginning in 1952 embarked on an international career, playing with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony while touring the U.S. Sadly, she recorded very little commercially. Our discovery of rare recordings brings her artistry back into the present.

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LÉLIA GOUSSEAU plays Liszt, Brahms and Fauré

1-4. Liszt: Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major, HS.124 [18:04]
I. Allegro maestoso [05:16]
II. Quasi adagio [04:36]
III. Allegretto vivace – Allegro animato [04:04]
IV. Allegro marziale animato [04:08]
Lélia Gousseau ∙ piano
Orchestre National de la RTF
Pierre Dervaux ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 05 November 1953 ∙ Paris ∙ Salle Gaveau ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

5-7. Brahms: Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor, Op.15 [45:38]
I. Maestoso [20:40]
II. Adagio [13:35]
III. Rondo: Allegro non troppo [11:24]
Lélia Gousseau ∙ piano
Orchestre National de la RTF
Manuel Rosenthal ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 24 January 1955 ∙ Paris ∙ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Live Recording

8. Fauré: Thème et variations, Op. 73 [15:03]
Lélia Gousseau ∙ piano
Recorded ∙ 24 March 1959 ∙ Paris ∙ Studio RTF ∙ Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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As a celebrated pupil of the icon Lazare-Lévy, Lélia Gousseau was a major performer from the 1930s to 1950s and beginning in 1952 embarked on an international career, playing with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony while touring the U.S. Sadly, she recorded very little commercially. Our discovery of rare recordings brings her artistry back into the present.

The French pianist Lélia Gousseau came from a family of musicians, born on 11 February 1909 in Paris. Her father William Gousseau (1870-1939) was an excellent organist, music teacher and choirmaster at the Petit Séminaire de Conflans, he had long been choirmaster and organist of the choir of the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, where he had met the famous mystic French composer and organist Charles Tournemire. Lélia studied first with her mother Fanny d’Almeida (who had been a student of Élie Delaborde, a pupil of Alkan who was allegedly his illegitimate son) and then with Madame Giraud-Latarse. She was admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of nine. There she garnered a series of prizes, starting with “une premiere medaille de solfege.” At sixteen, in the class of Lazare-Lévy, she was awarded the Premiere Prix de Piano (1925).The following year she won first prize in History of Music. Her conservatory days came to a grand climax with the Prix Pages, of which she was the winner in a competition held every five years and open to female prize-winning pianists of the preceding five years. One of her first professional appearance came with the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire at Paris’s Opéra in 30 Décembre 1928 performing Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto under the baton of Philippe Gaubert. The French Le Figaro (17 March 1931) wrote of Lélia Gousseau: “La personnalité de Mlle Lélia Gousseau s’affirme une fois de plus, et ses deux récitals consacres à Chopin-Liszt nous montrent cette jeune pianiste en pleine possession d’une technique exceptionnelle au jeu éclatant qui s’affirme aussi bien dans Liszt que dans Chopin. Incontestablement, Mlle Gousseau est, par ses qualités de précision, de sobriété et de naturel, l’une des plus accomplies pianistes de sa génération. Elle a été éblouissante de rythme et de recherche de sonorité dans Mazeppa, et musicale au possible dans les Etudes de Chopin. Triomphatrice du prix Pages, nous ne serons nullement surpris de voir Mlle Gousseau atteindre au pinacle des grandes pianistes femmes.“

Gousseau participated in the Third International Chopin Competition that took place in Warsaw in February and March 1937. The required repertoire was much more open in comparison with the previous two competitions. Participants were able to choose any Nocturne, two Etudes, Mazurka, Ballade, and Scherzo (or either Fantasy and Scherzo or one Sonata). Only the Polonaises were limited to either A-flat Major, Op. 53, F-sharp minor, Op. 44, or the Polonaise-Fantasy, Op. 61. The correlation between the number of international and Polish judges had shifted dramatically (18 and 12, respectively). Moreover, there were many outstanding pianists who agreed to be on the jury of this highly regarded competition. They included Emil Sauer (Austria), Wilhelm Backhaus, Alfred Hoehn, Richard Ressler (Germany), Carlo Zecchi (Italy), Lazare-Lévy and Isidore Philipp (France), Emil Frey (Switzerland), Andrei Stoyanov (Bulgaria). A representative form the Soviet Union, Heinrich Neuhaus, served on the jury for the first time. In regard to the participants, especially noticeable was a large delegation from France including Gousseau, Monique de la Bruchollerie, Colette Gaveau and Pierre Maillard-Verger. Gousseau was awarded the 12th Prize. In 1939 she won the Albert Roussel Prize, given in the name of the French composer of whose music she was a brilliant interpreter.

Her career, successfully launched, was interrupted by the war. Since the liberation of France in 1945 she played acclaimed recitals throughout Europe (England, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Romanian), as well as in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco) and the Middle East (Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey), and in 1952 she embarked on touring the United States, playing with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony while.

Gousseau had played with many well respected orchestras and has been critically acclaimed by noted conductors such as Philippe Gaubert, Charles Munch, Paul Paray, Eugene Bigot, Vladimir Golschmann, Igor Markevich, Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Erich Leinsdorf. After a performance with the Boston Symphony, conductor Erich Leinsdorf said, “She is really a great pianist. Since Rudolf Serkin, I have not worked with a pianist with whom I had such immediate and complete understanding.” Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy said, “Her performance brought more bravos than I have ever heard after the Schumann concerto.”

Music critics wrote of her: “We feel that Miss Gousseau is the happy possessor of a maturing musical intelligence and a charm stage personality. An artist paints a picture and it is there for all to see, to enjoy or not as the case may be. Music is a mobile art, non-existing from the time the composer puts down his pen until the performer or interpreter brings it to life momentarily. What kind of life depends on the composer and the performer. Miss Gousseau brought a lovely program to life and gave us an evening long to remember.”

The French Le Figaro (14 March 1955) wrote of her again: “Mlle Lélia Gousseau est, avec son mécanisme souple, son sens des sonorités, l’interprète élue pour servir les modernes. On sent qu’elle aime tout ce qui est musique sans mettre à discourir une gravité de pontife. Elle a joué avec beaucoup d’intelligence des pages de Fauré, Poulenc et Roussel, et donné en première audition deux Etudes de M. Lazare-Lévy, qui se recommandent par leur finesse d’expression et leur grâce linéaire à l’attention des pianistes vraiment soucieux de renouveler leurs programmes.”

Between 1961 and 1978, Lélia Gousseau taught piano playing at the National Conservatory in Paris (1961-1978), and later at the École Normale de Musique. She gave a series of master classes at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She was a jury member of international music competitions in Warsaw (Chopin Competition, 1949), Royan (Messiaen Competition, 1971), Athens (1977), Épinal (1981, 1983, 1985), Paris (Roussel Competition, 1982) and Sargasso (1983).
Sadly, she recorded very little commercially, primarily music of Albert Roussel for the Philips and Vega labels in the 1950s, and Falla for Telefunken. But her repertoire was much wider than that, embracing Brahms, Fauré, Debussy and Schumann particularly, and with a pronounced emphasis on the music of her contemporaries—especially Rivier, Martelli, Ohana, Schmitt, Malipiero, Clergue, Dukas.

Lélia Gousseau died in Paris on February 14, 1997 at the age of 88. Our discovery of rare recordings brings her artistry back into the present.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 1028
UPC barcode: 791154054048
Recording dates: 1953-1959
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 78:46

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