Hailed as a “hero” (Los Angeles Times), a “smashing” performer (Washington Post), “a pianist who breaks the mold” (International Piano) and “who stands out from the typical trends and artifices offered [...]
They spoke about it
Canadian pianist Alain Lefèvre devotes his new recording entirely to André Mathieu, recorded live in concert with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Choir under the renowned conductor George Hanson. It features the world premiere of André Mathieu’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a recently discovered work representative of the composer’s “Modern Romanticism,” and perhaps his boldest creation.
On March 22, 2003 pianist Alain Lefèvre was in Germany to perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto with the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra. At the helm, George Hanson agreed to replace the indisposed Victor Pöhl at a moment’s notice. Pianist and conductor quickly established an impressive affinity, which led to the beginnings of a new friendship and the planning of future collaborations. Soon thereafter, Hanson, Music Director of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, invited Lefèvre to perform Gershwin’s Concerto in F the following season. Alain Lefèvre having just released his recording of André Mathieu’s Concerto de Québec, suggested that George Hanson add this unknown work to the concert programs of November 18, 19 and 21, 2004. The gamble was generously rewarded as the audience, the critics and the orchestra alike fell under the Mathieu/Lefèvre spell.
Lefèvre was naturally invited for the opening of the 2006-2007 season. When Hanson suggested to Lefèvre Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the great defender of André Mathieu couldn’t help but propose Rhapsodie romantique, which he had just recorded with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Once again, the response was overwhelming.
In July 2006, though, Lefèvre had a revelation upon hearing Mathieu’s own recording of his Concerto No. 4 (solo piano version), a work believed forever lost. That was enough to send our visionary performer dreaming.
Piano Concerto No. 4: World Premiere
Alain Lefèvre had witnessed Hanson’s open-mindedness, but this time the sheer scope of the project was such that it would certainly require a crusader’s faith, a convert’s zeal and a politician’s resolve. The project resembled a four-tiered obstacle course: sell the idea of an all-Mathieu program to the orchestra; record the three concerts and turn that into a CD; fund the first commercial recording in the history of the TSO; and prepare the score of Piano Concerto No. 4, which didn’t yet exist!
Let’s go back in time a little. On September 21, 2005 at André-Mathieu Hall in Laval, Quebec, Alain Lefèvre was performing the Concerto de Québec for the Orchestre symphonique de Laval’s season opener. After the concert, as the audience was leaving, a couple lingered behind, the woman apparently wanting a word with Alain Lefèvre. With much emotion, she told him she knew André Mathieu, and that she was even his last sweetheart. The woman then handed him a bag, telling him it should rightly be his. Alain asked for her address and phone number so he could thank her, but her companion, ill at ease, led her away and put an end to the encounter. In the bag, between two sheets of brown cardboard, wew five vinyl records with André Mathieu’s handwriting on the center labels. The ten sides contained four works: Laurentienne (1946), the Sonata for violin and piano (1949) and excerpts from the 1949 Trio. The huge surprise, though, was on the last four sides. There could be no mistake—Mathieu’s hieroglyphic handwriting read: Piano Concerto No. 4.
At first, Lefèvre thought this was yet another version of the Concerto de Québec, also known as the Symphonie romantique, Concerto romantique and Concerto No. 3. So why not another version of the composer’s signature work, Mathieu’s improvisational genius being so well documented? After having the four sides transcribed, though, it became quite obvious this was a new and unknown work, perhaps one of Mathieu’s strongest and boldest. The second movement was later reworked by Mathieu into the Rhapsodie romantique, but the first and third movements revealed what was probably his best work, most representative of his “modern Romanticism.”
Now let’s travel even further back in time. In September 1946 André Mathieu set sail for Paris to work with Arthur Honegger. Upon his return to Montreal at the end of the summer of 1947 he undoubtedly already had the Piano Concerto No. 4 in his luggage since he played two of its movements on the October 8 Radio-Canada show Radio-Carabin. He programmed the work at every one of his concerts from 1948 to 1955. It is impossible to know, however, when André Mathieu made those records, especially since he had left other recorded testimonies of the work in the form of individual movements and even an abridged version of the concerto. Putting together these various source materials, Alain Lefèvre asked the composer and conductor Gilles Bellemare to take on the colossal task of putting together a workable score.
Working from just these tinny sounds, Gilles Bellemare had to take down the entire work in musical dictation, devise a coherent piano score, and deduce what should be allocated to the orchestra or the piano. That done, he had to substitute his own ears for Mathieu’s in order to determine the nature of the accompaniment and of the orchestration. Luckily, Bellemare was well acquainted with the composer’s compositional and pianistic styles, having previously revised the score of the Rhapsodie romantique and published a new edition of twelve piano pieces by André Mathieu.
Everything finally fell wonderfully into place so that the three concerts of May 8, 9 and 11, 2008 in Tucson, Arizona were a musical celebration that we can all now share in, thanks to this recording.
Scènes de ballet: orchestral work
Scènes de ballet took form over seven years. While studying in Paris (1936-1939) with the composer Jacques de la Presle, André Mathieu wrote “Berceuse” in May 1938, dedicating it to his teacher. Mathieu premiered it during the graduation ceremony of the Lycée Bossuet in June 1939. The second movement, “Complainte” dated March 1945, first appeared in a program performed by André Mathieu and Gilles Lefebvre on June 13, 1945 in Ottawa. “Dans les Champs” bears the same title as the first movements of Concertino No. 1 and the Suite for Two Pianos. Father and son Rodolphe and André often played these two works. Finally, the “ Danse des Espiègles” is a piece originally conceived for these Scènes de ballet. On a draft copy of a score for two pianos kept in Ottawa, André Mathieu wrote down the outline of the ballet: “thème de la solitude” (theme of solitude), “danse de la mort par la femme” (woman’s dance of death), “retour dans la rue et solitude” (back to the streets and solitude, page 25), and “danse des trois femmes” (dance of the three women). The four pieces were orchestrated between March 1944 and the spring of 1945.
Four Melodies for choir and orchestra
The four Mélodies pour voix seule et piano were transcribed, harmonized and orchestrated by the composer and conductor Gilles Bellemare for the 2005 edition of the Mondial Choral Loto-Québec festival. Three of them are dedicated to Mrs. Rose Lallier. André Mathieu composed both words and music to “Oh! Mon bel amour.” Two autograph manuscripts give two different dates—March 16 and December 16, 1957—and two dedicatees—”À ma grande amie Rose Lallier” and to the soprano Claire Gagnier, “avec ma sincère admiration.” “Les chères mains,” dedicated “À ma mere” (to my mother), and “Il pleure dans mon coeur” are two melodies that were inspired to André Mathieu by the French poet Verlaine. The two works were composed in the summer of 1946. Finally, “Si tu crois,” on a poem by Jean Laforest, was composed on September 18, 1955 at the Domaine Claire Vallée.
© Georges Nicholson, 2008
Translation: Jacques-André Houle