Février’s father, Henri (1875–1957), was a composer whose operas are today forgotten. Jacques studied with Edouard Risler and Marguerite Long at the Paris Conservatoire, winning a premier prix in Long’s class in 1921. He specialised in French music and became a champion of the music of 'Les Six'. From childhood he was acquainted with Ravel, who had known his father in Fauré’s composition class at the Paris Conservatoire. Young Jacques would visit Ravel at Sainte-Croix in Neuilly where the composer was living with his mother. During his years at the Conservatoire, Février regularly visited Ravel and studied and played many of his works with him. Ravel chose Février to play his Concerto for the Left Hand, originally written for Paul Wittgenstein, and after three years of exclusive rights had elapsed Février played it all over the world. He said, ‘I had studied it with Ravel. Although already very ill, he knew perfectly well what he wanted and what he forbade. When Marguerite Long was learning the Concerto in G major I accompanied her on the second piano. Ravel was behind me, and I still remember exactly what he asked of her.’ In 1932 Février gave the première of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos with the composer at the second piano and often gave concerts with Poulenc or Auric. In 1952 Février became professor of chamber music at the Paris Conservatoire.
Février’s first recordings were made for French Columbia in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, he was not asked to record very much, and from this pre-war period there is only the Concerto for Left Hand and Noctuelles by Ravel, and Fauré’s Nocturne No. 7. Février also played Bach and Mozart, and a lesser-known disc is of two movements from sonatas by Dussek and Johann Schobert recorded for Anthologie Sonore. Fortunately, in the LP era French EMI recorded Février in repertoire by composers with whom he had links. His recording of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, made with the composer in 1962, is still a classic and will always remain the benchmark for other performances. A second recording of Ravel’s Concerto for Left Hand with Georges Tzipine was made in 1957, coupled with Debussy’s Fantaisie for piano and orchestra. Also in 1957 Février recorded some piano solos by Milhaud, his Saudades do Brazil and Printemps. It was in 1971 that he recorded the complete solo works of Ravel for Adès which are now available on compact disc in France as are the complete solo works of Debussy, originally recorded for Véga in 1963. The Ravel set is particularly fine and deserves a wider circulation, since in addition to Février having studied many of the works with the composer, he has an obvious understanding of this music and an ability to reveal the textures with clarity and precision.
In the early 1970s Février recorded a great deal of Poulenc for French EMI including chamber music; the sonatas for violin with Yehudi Menuhin, and for cello with Pierre Fournier. Février also recorded the sonatas for violin and cello by Debussy, with Menuhin and Maurice Gendron. There are also two LPs of music for four hands by Satie where Février partners Georges Auric in 1968, on the Everest label, and Poulenc on the Musicdisc label.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).
Role: Classical Artist