Beth Levin, Pianist

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Donald Isler
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Beth Levin, Pianist

Post by Donald Isler » Sat Jul 14, 2018 2:22 pm

Beth Levin, Pianist
July 13th, 2018

Handel: Suite No. 4 in D Minor, HWV 428
Beethoven: Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 - "Hammerklavier"

Beth Levin was originally a child prodigy who debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of twelve. Her teachers included Rudolph Serkin, Leonard Shure, Paul Badura-Skoda and Dorothy Taubman. She has made recordings of the Goldberg Variations of Bach and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations while always maintaining an involvement in contemporary music. David Del Tredici and Andrew Rudin have written works for her, and she has also played the music of Henryk Gorecki, Scott Wheeler, Mohammed Farouz and Michael Rose. She plays chamber music as well as challenging solo programs, such as one featuring the last three Beethoven sonatas, which I heard her perform several years ago. She is received with enthusiasm when she first appears on stage by a devoted group of admirers.

Ms. Levin is incapable of playing a phrase without emotional content, or thought. She has an impressive technique but doesn't call attention to it; it's there at the service of the music.

The Handel Suite, most of which I hadn't heard before, started with a grand flourish, and the performance utilized a very wide dynamic range. No, this is not how one would play it on a harpsichord, anymore than the Bach performances of the great Edwin Fischer were for anything but the modern piano! Some of this work was played with great energy (and one was made aware of Ms. Levin's excellent articulation) whereas other places were beautiful in an almost spiritual way, and one noticed her fine control of soft playing. Some of it also had an improvisatory nature.

The Hammerklavier Sonata, which was played with hardly a pause after the Handel, was, as I learned afterwards, her first performance of this huge work. It was admirable in many ways.

The first movement struck me as unusually slow, and in fact it was twelve minutes long, even without the repeat. This made me think of the conductor, Otto Klemperer, who was known for his slow tempi, which, however, gave the listener the opportunity to hear so many of the music's details. And, indeed, Ms. Levin told me, that's what she had in mind. I found this an interesting outlook, and noted that the playing was powerful and very expressive. The second movement was played at more like the "standard" tempo for that movement, sounding quite jaunty, except for the beginning of the B-Flat Minor section, which was ferocious!

The third movement is not easy to hold together but Ms. Levin succeeded. It was played slowly but not too slowly, and featured much contrast, such as elegant fingerwork in the quasi-filigree right hand part, and a lovely, rocking "barcarolle-like" G Major section. The introduction to the last movement was very slow, but the fugue was taken at a good clip. It was powerfully played, technically and sound-wise, except for the beautifully played soft sections, such as where the music resumes in D Major after a series of rests.

There were no encores, but: What CAN you play after the Hammerklavier?!

Donald Isler
Donald Isler

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