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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Beth Levin, Bright Circle, Piano Music by Schubert, Brahms, Del Tredici

Any confirmed classical music listener will have at least some works she or he has heard over time often and in more than one performance (in the recorded medium), and perhaps in concert as well. When faced with a new version, the older ones one has heard inevitably stand in comparison to the one you are hearing. That is true for me of two of the three works contained in pianist Beth Levin's Bright Circle (Navona 6074).

The very much acclaimed earlier works are the ones I refer to: Schubert's "Piano Sonata No. 20, D.959" and Brahms's "Variations and Fugue on a Theme By Handel, Op. 24." The Schubert is especially an old favorite. I revel in the special Schubertian ringing melodic and harmonic brilliance, as many do. I have a few rather Viennese versions on LP. Those tend to be more spacious and glimmering in their lyricism. Then there are the showcase pianists who make of it a technical marvel. Beth Levin splits the difference in a way, not ignoring the bravura dramatics nor de-emphasizing the melodic beauty,

Johannes Brahms' "Variations and Fugue on a Theme By Handel, Op. 24" is one of the monumental theme and variation sets of its time, a wealth of contrasting treatments of Handel's theme that challenges the pianist to coopt the technical demands in the service of the extraordinary variational eloquence. Beth Levin once again finds a way to underscore the musical drama of each movement with interpretive clarity and passion, while in this case expressing fully the majestic wholeness of the music.

The final performance centers around David Del Tredici and his"Ode to Music," which is based on Del Tredeci's original arrangement of Schubert's An die Musik for wind quintet. This is its ultimate re-expression for solo piano. The piece as thought through by Levin serves as a fitting close for this program.

In the end we have some very personal and ultra-musical pianistic poeticism from Beth Levin. She neither seeks to steal the show with eccentric visions of these wonderful pieces, nor does she disappear in the telling of the musical narrative. The interpretations do not wear the emotions on the sleeve as much as channel content and affect for the sensibilities of our present-day selves. That is a tightrope walk that not everyone can pull off and still be themselves. Ms. Levin triumphs in doing just that.


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