Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Vallée d’Obermann [15:56]
Les Cloches de Genève [8:07]
Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este [10:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzo in E, Op 116 No 4 [6:07]
Ballade in D minor, Op 10 No 1 [6:35]
Waltz in D minor, Op 39 No 9 [2:02]
Wolfgang RIHM (b.1952)
Brahmsliebewalzer [3:35]
Philip GLASS (b.1937)
Dracula suite [11:06]
Bruce Levingston (piano)
rec. September 2005, Caspary Hall, Rockefeller University, New York, USA (all but waltzes); October 2009, Delta Music Institute, Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi, USA (waltzes)

At first I thought Bruce Levingston’s new piano recital would be James Bond-themed. Its title, Nightbreak, is apt - Bond was known, after all, for taking nights off from defending the crown - and the cover photo has Levingston, in bowtie and popped collar, looking dashing against a vivid orange dusk scene. But the pianist’s own explanation for his recital is more credible: “I realized, quite unconsciously, that I had assembled and recorded a number of works that vividly display the light and darkness of the human soul….this collection reminded me of that moment when day meets night, when the spectrums of the sun and moon mingle together with a mysterious, nuanced and haunting palette: ‘nightbreak’.”
For James Bond, nightbreak is just the beginning of the party. Levingston is rather more sober, and his pianism is of the same variety: probing, consciously deep, slowed-down. He opens with Liszt’s Vallée d’Obermann, a performance in which he tries to penetrate the deepest, darkest parts of Obermann’s soul at psychoanalytic length (15:56 to Berman’s 14:24). When bits of light do sneak through (as in the sixth and twelfth minutes) they feel, ironically, like daybreak. This performance is not quite fiery enough to be epic, but it is pianism on a grand scale. The opening of Les Cloches de Genève, by contrast, feels as light as air. Ultimately, though, this movement and Les jeux d’eaux begin to run together in their mixture of lightness and incredibly slow tempos. For the latter, Levingston takes 10:15, which means that after a very promising beginning there is both surface glitter and an odd heaviness, more like cold ocean water than the fountains of a villa.
The first two Brahms pieces, an intermezzo from Op 116 and a ballade, both feel much more impressionistic than you’d expect of Brahms, and possibly more than you’d want of him too. The Brahms waltz, in D minor Op 39 No 9, is given a relatively ‘straight’ treatment and paired directly with Wolfgang Rihm’s Brahmsliebewalzer, an excellent tribute to the earlier composer. The two waltzes, I have to say, were recorded in a different session from the rest, and the difference is telling; these two tracks feel less present, and a bit clangier. Dorian is its usual excellent self for the rest.
Levingston has actually saved best for last: a suite from Philip Glass’s Dracula. These are among Glass’s most characterful short pieces, with instantly compelling portraits of Dracula, Van Helsing, and a couple of especially good scenes. The lead-in to the final reprise is excellently done and Bruce Levingston’s nocturnal tone finally meets its perfect match. That this is a world premiere recording is even more exciting.
Aside from the Glass (and Rihm), the album is a bit of an acquired taste; in the case of some of the slower performances, they become a bit droopy for me. I’ll still take several other pianists in the Liszt Années excerpts, but the Dracula suite is eleven minutes of pure excellence. I’m glad to have heard it, and your curiosity should be piqued.
Brian Reinhart

A sleepy recital of night-music really comes to life for Rihm and Glass.