Sunday, September 13, 2009

What I am Listening to Today: Part I

Music from 2 divergent threads, one from an artist long passed from the scene and one from the live, local and current world.

On the CD player now is a wonderful recording, one of the few available, sadly, of Liszt and Alkan piano works by the renowned but sadly almost forgotten American pianist Raymond Lewenthal. Lewenthal, born in Texas of Russian parents, burst on the scene in the late 40s, winning major competitions and having the enviable honor of making his orchestral debut as a soloist with Mitropoulos conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto. Lewenthal was on to the road to a remarkable career when he was brutally attacked in New York's Central Park in 1953. The attack left his arms broken and he retreated to Europe to recover phyiscally and mentally.

Lewenthal returned to prominence in 1963 when in a radio broadcast he played and discussed the remarkable works of Charles Valentin Alkan (1813-1889) a great, but reclusive French pianist, composer and teacher. Lewenthal devoted the rest of his career and few recordings to Alkan, Liszt and some of the lesser known Romantic composers such as Moscheles, Scharwenka, Rubinstein, Field and Dussek. Lewenthal died in New York in 1988 while working on a definitive biography and study of his hero Alkan.

The recording I am listening to, Elan 82276 (available from CD Universe, HB Direct, Amazon or Archiv Records to name a few) is a re-release of the acclaimed 1965-1966 RCA recording, which some say in its rare CD iteration is superior in sound to this one, but try to get a copy for under $45.

The cost of this or the RCA CD is worth the price for the stunning Alkan Symphonie For Piano, movements from his !2 Etudes for the Minor Keys OP 39. Far from an academic etude, this is truly a well proportioned and argued symphonic statement. Lewenthal is breathtaking in the stark staccato passage near the end of the 1st movement of the Symphonie, taking them to a shattering climax. The other Alkan selections "Le Festin D'Esope" (from the op 39 Etudes) Barcarolle and "Quasi-Faust" from the Grande Sonata" are stunning in their virtuosity and musical thought. The Liszt piece "Hexameron" (I am not a big fan of Liszt's hyper-romantic music) is technically brilliant and always musical.

I was introduced to these performances from the wonderful Lance G. Hill who is not only the force behind the Classical Music Guide but hosts a weekly radio program featuring an artist of the week on Saturday evenings. You can listen in on WPEL radio Saturday at 7PM EST 6PM CST.

Worth seeking out!

Tomorrow, from the other side of the spectrum, The River Cow Orchestra.

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