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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Mischa Levitzki (1898-1941) Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Mélodie from Orfeo
Gavotte from Iphigénie en Aulide
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Marche Militaire arr. Tausig [Two versions}
Felix MENDELLSOHN (1809-1847)

Spring Song
Rondo Capriccioso in E major Op. 14
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Waltz in E minor Op. posth
Waltz in G flat major Op. 70 No. 1
Etude in G flat major Op. 10 No. 5
Etude in A flat major Op. 25 No. 1
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)

La Jongleuse Op. 52 No. 4
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 on D flat major S242
La Campanella
Mischa LEVITZKI (1898-1941)

Valse de Concert Op. 1
Waltz in A flat Op. 2
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Troika en traineaux (The Seasons – November)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Prelude and Fugue in A minor arr Liszt
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)

Sonata in A major K113
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Ecossaise in E flat major WoO 86
Mischa Levitzki (piano)
Recorded 1923-1933
NAXOS 8.110688 [77.06]



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Naxos’ Great Pianists series is now in full swing. No sooner had I reviewed Volume 2 of the Friedman and one of the latest Moiseiwitches than the first in an edition devoted to Mischa Levitzki appears. Levitzki was born in the Ukraine in 1898 and was sufficiently advanced to study, at the age of seven, with Alexander Michalowski, a pupil of Moscheles and Reinecke, at the Warsaw Conservatory. When Levitzki’s parents returned to America – they were naturalised citizens – they settled in New York where the young pianist continued his studies with Arthur Loesser’s teacher Sigismund Stojowski. He then moved on to von Dohnányi who took him on in 1913, after initial distrust, at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik.

Often written off as a mere technician (the notes reprint Horowitz’s scathing comment that Levitzki was "awful … just fingers. There is a difference between artist and artisan. Levitzki is an artisan.") the first volume covers the period from his late American Columbia acoustics to the HMV electrics of 1933. The first item Levitzki ever recorded was the Gluck-Sgambati Mélodie from Orfeo, a well-worn piece for pearl-toned exquisites everywhere and yet what does Levitzki do but distend it to almost four minutes of contemplative reflection. It strikes me as rather lumpen at the tempo – the converse of, say, Petri’s unalloyed beauty – but also strongly personalized. As if to show the other side of his nature the Schubert-Tausig Marche Militaire is extremely forthright. Elsewhere his virtues are hardly negligible; he makes fulsome rubati in the Op. posth E minor Waltz of Chopin but manages to retain comic detachment and vests the piece with genuinely attractive tone. He dances delightfully through the G flat major Waltz and is suitably poetic in the A flat major Etude. His Chopin as a group hardly seems to me superficial in the strictest sense. The genre standby Moszkowski’s La Jongleuse, so beloved of Moiseiwitsch who was making his recording at around the same time as Levitzki, is pert and charming; there is charisma aplenty in Liszt’s Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody, if some over-scaled and thunderous playing at the conclusion. His own popular compositions – the Op. 2 Waltz was taken up by many of his contemporaries – are effective and attractive; the Op. 1 Valse de concert is rhythmically incisive with a slow romanticized central section of real lyrical impulse. Needless to say Levitzki powers through the conclusion and shows everyone how to deploy filigree treble in the Waltz.

The remake of the E minor Waltz is an unpublished experimental electric recording dating from November 1924 – seven months after the commercial acoustic disc was recorded. It’s in fine sound and is played with drive. His trills in La Campanella might be considered outrageous by the more austere minded of listeners – there’s certainly a risk taking cheek to his playing here even if his hyphenated Bach-Liszt fails to convince. The Prelude is decidedly erratic and the Fugue supercharged. The Scarlatti Sonata ends in hyper-romantic subjective style and his London remake of the Marche Militaire again gives us his big boned drama.

Levitzki was not a prolific recording artist. He made fifty-three published sides before his early death in 1943. He was certainly uneven and could tend toward the gestural in his playing but there was something at its core that remains not simply likeable or sympathetic but curiously affecting as well.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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