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Frank Levy, pianist
More than Academic: Frank Levy in Recital
By Gary Lemco
A REFRESHING KEYBOARD talent made his appearance at Campbell Hall at the Braun Music Center on the campus of Stanford University, Saturday, 21 January 2012, Mr. Frank Levy, an artist with a pedigree that includes studies with luminaries Leon Fleisher, Maria Tipo, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, and Emanuel Ax. So, in Mr. Levy’s fingers resides a tradition that embraces Schnabel and Horszowski, and the path back to Leschetizky, Mikuli, and Chopin. Although Chopin did not figure in this evening’s recital, two arch Romantic works did: the Schumann Fantasia in C Major, Op. 17 and its potent kindred, the Liszt Sonata in B Minor. As part of the recital, the demure figure of violinist Minjung Cho graced a performance of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E Minor, K. 304.
Mr. Levy opened the program with Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Major, K. 208, a demonstration of the light touch applied to a series of Iberian colors and rhythms in ostensibly guitar textures. Late Mozart ensued, the miraculous Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, which seems to be receiving ever more notice, lately, as a forerunner of Chopin and the Romantic sensibility. Levy negotiated its plaintive series of variations with controlled grace, its grace notes and galant filigree assuming a darker current as it proceeded, an underlying menace or imminent tragedy. Levy no less exhibited a poetic side to the curls and runs that permeate the Rondo, an indication of his legitimate credentials as a prize winner in the Clara Haskil International Competition. Levy offered more Mozart after the intermission, in the form of the brief but affecting Violin Sonata in E Minor and the equally pre-Romantic or empfindsamkeit Adagio in B Minor, K. 540 (1788). This extraordinary piece exploits the B minor chord and eventually moves to D major in a low register, inverted. But the emotional depths, even despair, in the music did not escape Mr. Levy’s plangent expression, and its conclusion in B major did little to dispel the gloom of which the otherwise sunny composer was capable.
That left us the two major Romantic works, each of divine expression of Romantic Agony. The 1836 Schumann Fantasy in C Major, conceived as a memorial for a Beethoven monument planned by Liszt, exploits a Beethoven lied from his cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, (To the Distant Beloved), Op. 98. Schumann likely intended that his beloved Clara Wieck, reading the score, would experience a heart’s leap of recognition to the allusion to herself. But much more, the three-movement work basks in Schumann’s “narrative” style, rife with major/minor shifts that correspond to his Florestan/Eusebius dichotomy of his own personality. Levy performed each of its three sections—originally called “Ruins,” “Trophies,” and “Palms”—with requisite ardor and lofty sentiment, though I found the care to agogic detail a bit fussy and academic. Everyone loves the wild, Beethoven-like syncopes of the second movement that finishes with a thrilling coda. And the last movement, seeming to invoke the arpeggios of the “Moonlight” Sonata, rings with the poetic melancholy of that Schlegel invocation “of the one soft note that rings to the secret listener,” another of Schumann’s winks to the “initiated.”
More successful, due to his unabashed enthusiasm and catapulting technique, the Liszt Sonata (1853) under Levy struck us as the true meeting of musical minds. To maintain this lofty structure for 30 minutes remains a daunting task, since the work’s one “movement” divides, after various pieces by Schubert, into the major portions of the traditional sonata-form in four movements. Over the course of any number of transformations, the Sonata reveals some seven themes, some merely melodic fragments; but the major impulse—the pause followed by a quartet note on G—and a descending scale from G to A-flat without any fixed tonal center, allows Liszt, as in his Faust-Symphony, to seek every region of emotional experience, including a ferocious fugue structure that may or may not serve as a scherzo. Nicknamed “Beethoven’s 33rd Sonata,” the massive opus does incorporate many of the compositional devices of the Bonn master, adding its own bravura and expansive scale of values. By the time Levy reached Liszt’s soft, tranquilly introspective conclusion, it seemed that every conceivable wave in “our sea of troubles” had been transcended, and we, like the lonely “Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist” in Friedrich’s painting, had achieved the grace of s life’s ineffable experience.
Mr. Levy next appears in concert with his “Around the World in 88 Keys” Recital at the Palo Alto Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, 26 February 2012 at 8:00 p.m. ♫
Dr. Gary R. Lemco regularly reviews for
Classical Music Guide. He lives in California.
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