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Zara LEVINA (1906-1976)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1942) [38:48]
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1975) [19:13]
Maria Lettberg (piano)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Ariane Matiakh
rec. Berlin RBB Saal 1, 2016
CAPRICCIO C5269 [58:01]

Ukraine-born Zara Levina studied in Odessa and wrote her first Piano Concerto in wartime and her second over thirty years later. The earlier work is ripely romantic, generating its sense of momentum and surging lyricism from the very outset. It would be idle to pretend that Rachmaninov is not the formidable lodestar – the rich chording, the ruminative sectioning, the tapestry of orchestration but most tellingly the piano’s syntax all point to his unmistakable figure. The slow movement hints at a Classical direction at points but soon detours to a richly coloured deft march theme, one that allows a due melancholy to pervade the writing, and passages that cleave very closely indeed to Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto. The burlesque elements of the finale may come as a surprise after all this – there are some decidedly sinewy chordal passages along the way – but the contrast is immediate and attractive and Levina’s sure sense of vocalized lyricism never deserts her. Th triumphant conclusion feels deserved, not inflated.

She returned to the genre in 1975, completing a one-movement 19-minute concerto that is altogether more tightly argued than the earlier concerto. It was to prove her final composition. This is a notably deft work. Its falling chromatic motif is noteworthy, as is the crisply delineated solo line, played with acumen by Maria Lettberg – she’s as adroit in the more elusive elements of this work as she had been in its companion’s effusive romanticism – and the expressive lyricism of the writing. There is plenty of incident in this concerto and there is a chamber-scaled focus on timbral conjunctions, on nocturnal paragraphs and on Ravel-textured qualities. But Levina has not sold her love: Rachmaninov is still sewn into the fabric of her compositional life and makes brief appearances toward the end of this probing, welcoming and hugely enjoyable work.

This is a fine introduction to Zara Levina’s music. True, the studio recording is hardly the last word in romantic opulence but it’s not chilly either and is more than serviceable. The production as a whole makes a good case for both works and composer, and for that the soloist, Ariane Matiakh and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin should take great credit.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous reviews: Rob Barnett ~ Steve Arloff



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