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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 9

Sizzling Summer Season for Alain Lefèvre

by Réjean Beaucage / June 4, 2003

Version française...

Renowned pianist Alain Lefèvre won't be spending much time on the beach this summer! He apparently prefers the solidity of his piano bench to the pleasures of the chaise longue, and has organized a summer season that will keep him on an even faster track than usual.

Lefèvre will take part in three festivals--in Montreal, Quebec City, and at the Domaine Forget in St. Irénée--in the space of three months, and will perform three concertos in a single concert, not to mention three concerts during the same festival! And all of this, as you might expect from Lefèvre, happens between several European concerts in an already jam-packed schedule. As he lists these activities, one wonders how he can remember it all. However, Lefèvre's capacious memory is equalled only by the warmth of his welcome and the evident pleasure he takes in answering our questions, moving to the piano to illustrate different types of playing or taking various scores off his bookshelves to help explain his work.

June marks his first stop in this sizzling summer session. He'll be performing three times rather than just once at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival. "I'll be taking part in the gala evening on June 11 with a short performance, because there'll be a number of other artists," he explains. "I'll do the Presto from Rachmaninoff's Moments Musicaux, op. 16, and Chopin's "Revolutionary" Étude No. 12 in C minor, op. 10. Then on the 14th I'll take part in the concert featuring South American music. I'll play a work that I'm very fond of, Alberto Ginastera's Tres Danzas Argentinas, his first piano composition (1937), and three really beautiful dances, the second of which I've recorded on my CD "Lylatov," because it's one of my favourite pieces. Then for the "Russian Romance" concert on June 19, I'll be doing Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition."

 We then discussed his very personal interpretation of Moussorgsky's work, which he recorded last year for Analekta and chose to play in tempi slower than are usually heard. "Obviously, it isn't a question of technique," he points out.

"It's not a matter of my finding it difficult to play fast; there's a feeling that the public is tired of pianists who 'play fast.'

Musicians have gone over the top with extremely rapid tempi, to the point where sometimes it's no longer music, but a circus act. Of course, you don't do the opposite just for the sake of being different, but you need to ask yourself how meaningful an interpretation is, all the same. In this case, I'm really interpreting it the way I feel it should be. Respecting the score is always important for me, something that can't be said of all pianists!"

Achieving a dream

In July, Lefèvre will premiere his newest "baby" for Quebec City audiences in a concert with the Orchestre symphonique de Québec (OSQ) under the baton of Yoav Talmi. The program will be exactly the same as that of his third CD with Analekta, to be released this fall. "This is something I've dreamed about and worked toward for a long time," says Lefèvre. "My hope was to be able to do one of the most faithful readings of André Mathieu's Concerto de Québec. He's a composer who, I feel, has not been appreciated or respected for his true worth. He was a great genius, and it's sad to see how little his work has been respected. I've worked on several scores to prepare my interpretation and correct errors. There's one gross mistake that you see made often, which is to say that the work dates from 1947. Well, I've got a signed copy that stipulates 'completed in February 1943.' People even get the date wrong! It's been called Concerto romantique or Symphonie concertante pour piano et orchestre, but I call it Concerto de Québec. I have three manuscript editions of the work; it took twelve months of proofreading and correcting." As he talks Lefèvre walks over to a bookcase and comes back with the fruit of his labour. Each page is covered with corrections in both the orchestra and piano parts--the number of bars don't always correspond to one another, and sometimes even change places from one page to the next, the piano being shown first on top of the orchestra, then below. "There are at least two or three hundred corrections of the notes," he adds, "and there'll probably be a new edition after the CD is released, because it's a very fine concerto. It was a real grind, but we got it recorded!"

For this concert, Lefèvre will play three piano concertos back-to-back, the kind of performance which concert pianists rarely go for. "The idea was to take three concertos from almost the same period by composers who, although not Brahms, Wagner, or Bach, still have common ground in the sense that all three were devotees of the past to some degree. At a time when there was an enormous surfacing of contemporary music, they adopted an entirely separate intellectual position, inspired by love of what was old. It's a bit dizzying to see how many new things were happening at that time, but if you take, for example, Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto (1942), you find a concentrated blend of Rachmaninoff and Chopin. The same is true for Mathieu's concerto. That being said, it doesn't mean we don't have a duty to make this music known. It's also part of history."

The trio of composers is rounded out by George Gershwin. "What happened," says Lefèvre, "is that when the CD's program was being worked out, I was absolutely clear about wanting Concerto de Québec. Mario Labbé of Analekta asked me what I thought would go with it. I wasn't going to pick a Rachmaninoff or a Chopin piece, but I did think of the Addinsell, which is a work that was quite famous in its time. Then, with Québec City and Warsaw, I already had two cities, and Gershwin's Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra (1925) was written for the New York Symphony Society, so there we were: three concertos, three cities. Gershwin is much more romantic here than in his Rhapsody in Blue and personally I feel that the Concerto in F is one of the very great masterpieces for the piano. I've just come back from a German tour, and audiences were entranced by this work. It certainly can't be classed as 'secondary music'--on the contrary, it's truly great music. I haven't put much Gershwin in to my repertoire, but there are things of his that I'd like to do--record the two rhapsodies on the same CD, for example, and record another with his recital pieces."

Brothers join forces

In August, Lefèvre moves on to the Domaine Forget festival in St. Irénée to give a rare recital with his brother, the violinist David Lefèvre. "It's always a pleasure to take part in the Domaine Forget festival," he says. "I didn't want to come back this year with another solo recital--all the more because I'm preparing a new recital program for the fall and for my next CD. It will include Rachmaninoff works (the entire Études-tableaux, the Elegy, and Variations on a Theme of Corelli, a work that he performed as a world premiere in Montreal on October 12, 1931). I spoke to the organizers about my brother, who hasn't played in Quebec for ages. David is solo violinist with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and a super-energetic musician. He's the only one of the four brothers to be born in Quebec, and it would be a good thing for him to play here, after all! We'll do Guillaume Lekeu's Sonata for Violin and Piano, which is rarely performed, Grieg's Sonata in C Minor, op. 45, and Schumann's Adagio and Allegro, op. 70."

There's a possibility that one day the four Lefèvre brothers will give a recital together, with pianist Philippe and violinist Gilles joining Alain and David. But until then, before and between the various Quebec festivals, Alain Lefèvre will be on tour with the Bratislava Radio Orchestra and Beethoven's Fifth, then back to Montreal, then off again to Prague for two concertos (Rachmaninoff and Gershwin). He will take part in a festival in Athens, and after his Domaine Forget stint he'll take two or three weeks to prepare for his fall engagements, which begin with a South American tour. When I express some surprise at this seemingly frenzied activity, he touches wood on the edge of his armchair and says with a smile, "One can't complain! I'm lucky. We'll soon be having a problem in the music world and it will be necessary to talk to governments, cultural bodies, and, in a word, the people in power because we've got to open their eyes. I've met lots of young musicians worldwide in recent years. Many of them are good, but one wonders if there will be work for them. I'm beginning to worry. I went to the market yesterday and happened on a great collection of quality recordings for $4.99 each. This seems utterly abnormal to me. Why would anyone want to buy a twenty-dollar CD after that?" [Translated by Jane Brierley]

Liszt, Transcriptions: Bach, Wagner
Alain Lefèvre, piano
Analekta FL 2 3179 (74 m 15 s)

What makes music lovers look for one CD rather than another? It's the recording quality, the sound of the instrument, the originality of the program, and of course, performance quality--to name but a few of the reasons. Anyone listening to Alain Lefèvre's latest CD will be satisfied on all counts, without a shadow of a doubt. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in A Minor for Organ BWV 543 has only one fault: it's too short! Liszt's transcriptions, far from detracting from Bach's genius, inject his work with a second life. Lefèvre's playing allows just the fullness that is needed for this high-precision composition. In the Variations on J.S. Bach's theme "Weinen, Klagen..." which Liszt wrote on the death of his daughter, Lefèvre espouses the father's torment perfectly and applies just the right tone to each line. As for the versions of "Isoldens Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, "Evening Star", or the overture from Tannhaüser, nothing of Wagner's music is lost and its power is, in fact, enhanced. The transcriptions are the work of a great composer and their interpretation, that of a great pianist. Réjean Beaucage

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