“Still Sound” = ARVO PÄRT: Fűr Alina;Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka; ERIC SATIE: Gymnopédies No. 2 & No. 3; Gnossienne No. 2; AUGUSTA GROSS: Venturing Forth Anew 1 & 2; Dance of the Spirits; Changes; Reflections on Air; FRANZ SCHUBERT: Impromptu in Ab Major; FREDERIC CHOPIN: Nocturne in Bb Minor; WILLIAM BOLCOM: New York Lights – Bruce Levingston, piano – Sono Luminus Records DSL-92148, 56:21 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This is definitely not a routine piano program and is all the more enjoyable because of it. Bruce Levingston is a gifted pianist. His touch is deft and his phrasing is artistic and sensitive. He is also someone who has already developed an excellent reputation in the contemporary music scene. He has performed music by some of the most prominent – and emergent – composers around; including Philip Glass, Lisa Bielawa and Charles Wuorinen. Interestingly, Levingston has also collaborated on performance art of various sorts with actor Ethan Hawke and artist Chuck Close, among others. Levingston is a Renaissance man with appreciable skill as a performer who also constructs very interesting programs, such as this one.
The title “Still Sound” is a very apt description of the very gentle, placid, meditative nature of the works on this beautifully arrayed program. Most listeners will at least be able to claim some familiarity with the Schubert Impromptu in Ab or the Chopin Nocturne. In this case, Levingston takes the beauty and the relative technical simplicity of these masterworks and gives them an almost Zen-like reflective quality. The opening water-like sixteenth note cascades in the Schubert or the dreamlike quality of the Chopin make these performances compete with any other I have heard. Similarly, the familiarity of the Satie Gymnopédies is a gift to the listener but the performances are wonderful!
The biggest pleasure in this disc, however, is the inclusion of some unfamiliar wonders. Some listeners are acquainted with the music of the Estonian-born Arvo Pärt. Pärt’s music has a strongly religious and mystical feel to it, due in part to the composer’s own upbringing and devotion to the Eastern Orthodox faith. A great deal of his music is actually so simply structured that therein lies the beauty. Take the very opening chords and extremely minimal rhythmic movement of the opening work, Fűr Alina. The subsequent work, Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka, is equally sparse and mysterious. The title, in fact, “Variations for the Healing of Arinuschka”, begs more than one listening. What “variations” exist are in dynamic, in built in tempo (all degrees of slowness) and in tone – major/minor; legato/staccato – and help to paint the picture of a tiny rural Russian village in recovery. Written in 1977, the work shows the influence of early music on Pärt’s writing. The different speeds of both lines, together with exact pedaling instructions (according to notes from the publisher) seem to create a shifting of tonality within a simple structure. In any regard, this is truly simple and lovely.
Composer William Bolcom is a pretty big name in American music and his output runs the gamut from symphonies to works like the present, New York Lights. This piece is a very soft, restful work based on an aria from Bolcom’s opera, A View From the Bridge (a wonderful piece by the way). This short little gem – just like the aria from which it is derived – perfectly evokes a sense of the early twentieth century, ethnically diverse, New York and the simplicity of that time and place.
Lastly, I enjoyed getting to know the music of composer Augusta Gross. Five of her piano works are represented here. Each of the small tranquil selections owes something to early music and that of Pärt and Satie (as acknowledged in the booklet notes). Interestingly, Gross is now a retired psychologist who expresses her beliefs in music and visual art, as well. While each of the works performed here is quite nice, my favorite was the longest; Reflections on Air.
Kudos to Bruce Levingston for putting together such a nice and completely peaceful program. Levingston has other performances on the Sono Luminus label that I am anxious to check out. There is much to admire here and this gives the listener a completely unusual and very fascinating listening experience.
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