In the Beginning: Eugène YSAŸE (1858-1931) Prelude from Sonata No.2 in A Minor for solo violin (arr. Adam Levin) [2:15] J. S. BACH (1685-1750) Prelude in E Minor from BWV 1006a [3:31]; William WALTON (1902-1983) Five Bagatelles [13:46]; Jan FREIDLIN (b.1944) Kafka Sonata for Guitar and Violin* [15:08]; Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO (1895-1968) Platero y Yo, Op.190 -Golondrinas [4:22], Los Gitanos [3:39], Platero En El Cielo De Moguer [4:33]; Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949) Fandanguillo [4:25], Sevilliana-Fantasia [5:46].
Adam Levin (guitar); William Knuth (violin)*
rec. no details provided.

The classical guitar is a relative newcomer to the concert stages of the world. Even in its country of origin, formal academic training for the instrument was only initiated in 1935 with the appointment of Regino Sainz de la Maza as Professor of Guitar at the Madrid Conservatorium. Prior to this, students were taught by their fathers, relatives or virtuosi who established their own discrete schools of tuition.

Andrés Segovia worked tirelessly to have the guitar introduced into institutions of formal musical training throughout the world, realizing that without that support, the guitar was destined to remain in relative obscurity as a concert instrument. Regrettably, not everything that academia conferred on the guitar was to its ultimate betterment; much of what we hear today while technically sound, is musically barren and devoid of the style and panache that characterized its early virtuosi.

Adam Levin is a young guitarist from Chicago, USA. Prior to pursuing formal academic training in the instrument, at age seven Levin commenced guitar studies with his father. He subsequently completed a B.A. and B.M. at the Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois, and an M.A. at the New England Conservatorium of Music in Boston. His principal teachers include Elliot Fisk, Oscar Ghiglia and Gabriel Estarellas. Levin is currently on the staff of the Amadeus Escuela De Música in Madrid.

The review disc is Levin’s inaugural recording. The artist describes it as: ‘the first in a planned series of recordings celebrating new and modern virtuosi works for the classical guitar alongside contemporary interpretations of established repertoire.’ It also appears on his own label: Adam Levin Records.

The programme ranges from J. S. Bach to the world-premiere recording of Jan Freidlin’s, Kafka Sonata for Violin and Guitar. Levin is joined by violinist William Knuth with whom he regularly performs as the Duo Sonidos, based in Boston and Madrid. Freidlin was born in Russia and educated in composition and theory at the Odessa State Music Academy under Prof. A. Kogan. He is a pianist, musicologist and prolific composer with three symphonies, a ballet, several concertos, a lot of chamber music, and the music for seven movies and twenty-six theatrical shows to his credit. Freidlin migrated to Israel in 1990. When asked about the Kafka Sonata, he reflected on his sense of familiarity with Franz Kafka and the artist Vincent van Gough - seemingly distant personalities committed to different disciplines, but whose fragile and broken worlds were connected by a common aspiration to perfection.

Adam Levin is also a champion of commissioning new works for the guitar. Composers co-operating with him in expansion of the guitar’s repertory include, among others: Jan Freidlin (Israel, b.1944); Mario Gosalvez-Blanco (Spain, b.1965); Eduardo Morales-Caso (Cuba-Spain, b. 1969); Carlos Perón Cano (Spain b. 1976) and David del Puerto (Spain b.1964). Currently, as many as ten new commissions from such composers will find their way into the repertory of Adam Levin and ultimately to the guitar’s repertory at large, depending on what they have to offer.

The programme chosen by Levin is interesting, entertaining and allows him to demonstrate a prodigious technique but not at the expense of the music. Whether it is the music of Bach, Walton or Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Levin exhibits musicianship that defies classifying him as aligned with any one composer or period. While his Turina sounds very Spanish - and that cannot be said about a number of other guitarists who record this music - it is uncommon to hear the Bagatelles by Walton played better than on this occasion.

May we attribute the style of Levin, at least in part, to the fact that, as with earlier Spanish masters he received initial tutelage from his father? In true Spanish style, the great Jose Luis Gonzalez Julia (1932-98) received his initial training from his father, a capable and accomplished player. This was followed by tutelage from such luminaries as Salvador Garcia, Regino Sainz de la Maza, and Segovia. His academic studies were completed at the Valencia Conservatorium under the inimitable Professor of Guitar, Raphael Balaguer. One may also conjecture that such highly individual styles of playing may be a product of this type of training?

On the matter of Levin’s style of playing it is difficult to empathize with the comments of his past teacher Oscar Ghiglia who described Levin as: ‘reminding him of a young Eliot Fisk.’ In possession of both older and more recent recordings by this guitarist, I fail to hear any similarities; it is more a matter of the student excelling the teacher.

While not mentioned in the liner-notes, the instrument played on this occasion by Adam Levin was made by the American luthier Stephan Connor from Cape Cod. Those familiar with the classical guitar will note from the accompanying photographs that this instrument does not have the traditional rosewood back and sides. While some luthiers employ maple for this role, on this occasion Connor used cypress, a wood more commonly associated with flamenco guitars. Levin describes this unusual combination as: ‘providing the beefiness of a cypress top, but the clarity and punctuality of a cypress flamenco guitar.’ The internal bracing is in the shape of a Star of David and while a permutation of lattice bracing, it does not exhibit the ‘nasal’ sound, typical of so many lattice-braced instruments. It also has a portal sound hole on the top side near the neck-junction that is claimed to make the sound louder. Certainly the overall sound is distinctive and, as personal preference plays such a large role, individual opinions will vary. What can be said, confidentially, is that the combination of instrument, player capability and recording technique, produces a sonically delightful result.

Adam Levin has an excellent website, and for those who seek more information about this fine young guitarist it comes well recommended.

Zane Turner

A refreshingly individual style, and an interesting, well-played programme