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Mischa Levitzki. Complete Recordings Volume 3. Gramophone/RCA Victor Recordings 1927-38
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Prelude in C major Op.28
Prelude in A major Op.28 No.7 [2 versions]
Prelude in F major Op.28 No.23
Waltz in A flat major Op.64 No.3
Waltz in G flat major Op.70 No.1
Waltz in C sharp minor Op.64 No.2
Etude [Black Key] Op.10 No.5 [2 versions]
Ballade No.3 in A flat major Op.47 [2 versions]
Nocturne in F sharp major Op.15 No.2
Nocturne in C minor Op.48 No.1
Polonaise in A flat major Op.53
Scherzo in C sharp minor Op.39
Camille SAINT-SAËNS

Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor Op.22 – second movement
Ford Symphony Orchestra/Victor Kolar
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Staccato Etude Op.23 No.2
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in G minor Op.23 No.5
Mischa LEVITZKI (1898-1941)

Waltz in A major Op.2
Arabesque valsante Op.6 [2 versions]
Mischa Levitzki (piano) with accompaniment as above
Recorded 1927-38. Live broadcast material from 1935
NAXOS 8.110774 [76.47]

 

It’s a measure of Levitzki’s short life that his entire commercial recordings fill something less than three CDs. This is the last of them and it includes, as well as a Chopin series (and some Rubinstein and Rachmaninov), some rarities in the form of two 1935 broadcasts. I’ve written about Levitzki before with a mixture of enthusiastic admiration and perplexity: Volume 1      Volume 2

What’s become clear over the course of listening to his legacy is quite how erratic he could be and that’s no less the case here; in fact the 1928-29 Chopin discs demonstrates the fact quite graphically. He highlights and accents with highly idiosyncratic results – try the C major Prelude – and plenty of rubato or can be really rather over dreamy (as with the companion Prelude here, in A major). But his Waltz in A flat major is both witty and vibrant, even if that in G flat major comes to a near standstill. His outbursts can be rather predictable and tend toward rhythmic instability – the mountainous and eruptive quality that he evinces also tends sometimes to sound hectic (Ballade No. 3). This is true in the C minor Nocturne where for all the nobility of his rolled chords, when Levitzki gets going he certainly does get going; he’s very quick, loses a certain amount of control and ironically and crucially, vitiates tension and a sense of swelling drama through this very sense of eruptive speed. For Levitzki, one sometimes feels, drama was a local event, too often unrelated to surrounding material – and too often emerging as disjunct and undisciplined. So for all the finesse and animation, views of his Chopin are decidedly mixed; take the Polonaise in A flat for example. It’s genuinely terpsichorean and unlike many pianists he doesn’t put it under too much pedal to hide technical flaws; rhythm is vivacious but there are a few "blank" moments where one feels a want of colouristic imagination, almost as if he doesn’t know what to do with some passages; the excellent co-exists with the bland. But the end is brilliantly conceived.

We have a couple of his own pieces recorded in 1938 for RCA Victor and then the earlier 1935 broadcasts, really rare survivors these. In them we have some prices to be paid. He reprises pieces well known from his commercial discography – the biggest is the A flat major Ballade which is somewhat slower than the earlier commercial recording. We have the additional liability of inane announcers (in one case talking over Levitzki’s playing – shame on NBC!) and a bad pitch drop in the C sharp minor Waltz. The sound deteriorates in the extract from the Saint-Saëns – especially the orchestral sound – but elsewhere it’s perfectly serviceable (even if there’s a degree of "spread") for its vintage and circumstances. These are valuable retrievals though they don’t in all honesty add much to our appreciation of his musicianship.

Admirers of the pianist should certainly keep faith with Levitzki. He is erratic but full of personality and the commercial transfers have depth and are convincing. Comparison with APR’s Levitzki series is nip and tuck and I wouldn’t necessarily always prefer Naxos – but their price is tempting and they have the advantage of those ultra rare broadcasts.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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