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Vladimir Jankélévitch (1903-1985) was a French philosopher, amateur pianist and writer on music, including books on Debussy, Fauré, Ravel and Liszt. This ground-breaking volume presents previously unavailable texts. His intense love of French music included a habit of referring to François, instead of Franz, Liszt, which is indeed how the composer- performer was billed during appearances in France. Rejecting many German musicians, especially after the Second World War, Jankélévitch was not a complete chauvinist, as he praised piano works and other compositions by Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček, Martinů, Bartók, Kodály and others.

While teaching at the French Institute of Prague in 1932, Jankélévitch wrote concert reviews, lamenting that Alfred Cortot had chosen an unimaginative all-Chopin programme for a recital, rather than offering some Nocturnes by Gabriel Fauré, which would have been an innovation. Novelty for its own sake is attacked in 1934, when an unspecified piano concerto by the 20th-century Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar is dismissed as ‘…a shocking jumble in which every style mixes or crawls with the worst recollections of Grieg, Glazunov and Saint-Saëns.’ A Prokofiev concerto would have been more suitable, Jankélévitch concludes.

Two decades on, in 1958 Jankélévitch reviewed a recital by Ravel pupil Vlado Perlemuter. In Fauré’s music, ‘Perlemuter’s virtuosity achieves miraculous contained power and discretion,’ he wrote. Six years later, the piano duo of Jacqueline Robin-Bonneau and Geneviève Joy (the wife of composer Dutilleux) is lauded in Ravel, Chabrier, Debussy and Milhaud for their ‘clarity, lucidity and subtlety’.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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