> Ernst Levy 2; Forgotten Genius plays Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ernst Levy 2; Forgotten Genius plays Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata No 31 Hob XVI/46 (1778)
Piano Sonata No 47 Hob XVI/32 (1776)
Piano Sonata No 60 Hob XVI/50 (c1794-1795)
Piano Sonata No 61 Hob XVI/51 (c1794-1795)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 23 Op 57 Appassionata (1804)
Piano Sonata No 27 Op 90 (1814)
Piano Sonata No 28 Op 101 (1816)
Piano Sonata No 30 Op 109 (1820)
Piano Sonata No 31 Op 110 (1821-22)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasy in D Minor K397 (1782 or 1786-87)
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Frühlingsstimmen Op 410 (1883)
Ernst Levy, piano
Recorded on Unicorn Records 1956 (Haydn, Beethoven Sonatas Nos 23, 30, 31) 1958 (Beethoven Sonatas No 27, 28), Mozart and Strauss from Sonabel 78s recorded in c1929
MARSTON 52021-2
[2 CDs 79.26 and 71.33]



The Swiss born Ernst Levy, pedagogue, composer, teacher, choirmaster, writer and – not least – astonishing pianist, here receives a second volume from Marston. Born in Basle he received training from Pugno and from Petri – illustrious teachers – and moved to Paris as a choral conductor giving the premiere of, amongst other things, Brahms’s German Requiem and Liszt’s Christus. He spent nearly thirty years in the United States having escaped from Paris before the Nazi onslaught. Retiring in 1966 he returned to the country of his birth and lived a long and contented life there, dying in 1981.

Once more Levy’s Beethoven continues to provoke a wide divergence of responses. The Appassionata is a massive and mammoth delineation with huge dynamic gradients and rhythmic distensions. In the Andante con moto there is a wonderfully deep sonority that activates the line but also occasional holdings back and dissipation of momentum that prove less convincing on second hearing. In the third movement there is an admixture of deliberation and almost vicious declamation and it strikes me as too fractious and devastatingly abrupt for full and proper clarity of articulation – however exciting and visceral it may be. Here Levy seems to sacrifice genuine internalised clarity for almost existential power. Levy’s pianism, especially his Beethoven, is one bound to divide opinion. He has a powerfully intellectualised vision and all the technical means at his disposal to commit that vision to the listener – but within it there is agogic and rhythmic licence that is equally powerfully personalized and will antagonise as much as it excites and convinces. No bad thing, perhaps, in Beethoven of all composers.

In Op 101 a convulsive flexibility courses through the Sonata with consistently enlightening results; its grandiloquent conclusion is full of affirmatory and triumphant playing. Op 109 though begins with a degree of rather fussy and manicured phrasing before Levy digs in and generates considerable reserves of drama and colour and energy – his technique is not simply robust, it’s fantastic. In the Prestissimo second movement he is, following the indication, very quick but inner voicings are still brought out even at this speed and control is marked and triumphant. The opening movement of Op 110 is hardly Moderato, cantabile molto expressivo in Levy’s hands and there is instead his by now accustomed disruptive and insistent phrasing. I hesitate to call this mannerism because it seems to me that that conveys entirely the wrong account of the meaning behind Levy’s Beethoven playing which is entirely above such point scoring or laziness of rhythmic inflection. It is powerfully thought out and absolutely engaged musicianship albeit of the type that will provoke considerable negative reactions as well as affirmatory ones. In the slow movement of the same movement for example I found his vigorous accents rather unsettling and the whole of the first part of the Adagio similarly hobbled – disjunct and undercut – but he certainly picks up for the Fuga which is full of expressive clarity – very special playing indeed.

His Haydn is romantic but not as wilful or idiosyncratic as his Beethoven. The A Flat Sonata has delicious leading voices in the opening movement and an elevated nobility in the second. The finale points up the vivacity of Haydn’s writing. He catches the humour in the B Minor but equally has the confidence and acuity in Haydn playing to demonstrate true simplicity. The two final pieces are taken from his rare c1929 Sonabel 78s.

Volume Two lives up to the expectations generated by the earlier set. Levy is technically outstanding, architecturally and intellectually probing, a musician of conviction and powerfully individualized responses. For people who don’t know him – and that’s most people – they can now more fully become acquainted with a pianist who treats Beethoven as the colossus he is. In no small measure Marston adds to the merit by virtue of transfer quality and notes – in this volume a joint essay by Donald Manildi and Gregor Benko and a musical discussion by Frank Cooper. Responses to Levy will be definitively polarised but he’s a pianist who demands to be heard.

Jonathan Woolf

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