Posted by: 2russ | October 24, 2011

A “Wild” Concert on a Small Island

Pianist Jonathan Levin took an amazed audience of 30 through 300 years of music, which included Beethoven’s epic Hammerklavier  Sonata.  Other composers whose work he played included Bach, Scarlatti, Liszt, Griffes, and Mcleer.

This recital concert featured stories, background and narrative of the pieces and their composers told by Mr. Levin prior to the performance of each piece.

Mr Levin started with Prelude and Fugue in C – sharp Minor from WTC  Book I by J.S. Bach.  The contrast in tone from that piece – to the Domenico Scarlatti composition to follow, Sonata in D major L. 164, was a refreshing and uplifting experience highlighted by the harpsichord feel crafted by Levin at the Grand Piano.  The audience was on the journey from Bach to an unknown.

Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etude #8, Wilde Jagd was the next uncharted island explored.  Translated “Wild Hunt,” the piece featured a less than romantic “hunting” scene that was more haunting than hunting. The low bass evoked a screaming wild beast; the tenor horn sound, or call of the horns, warned of the hunters’ advance; the soprano interplay with the bass told the story until the final low thud of the beast’s demise sounded finality. It was advantage hunter in the 19th century.

Mr. Levin moved us along and played a short piece by a contemporary and friend, Christian Mcleer. Titled Thank You, the composition served the audience well, as an interlude both complex and interesting  – and questioning and dark.

The last piece of the first part of the program was by composer, Charles Griffes born in 1884. He died in 1920.  The piece, Piano Sonata, told a story open for interpretation:  Part I “Feroce – Molto tranquillo” and Part II, “Allegro vivace. ”

Written in 1918, you could feel the effects of World War I on Griffes.  It was as though Part I was a volcano waiting to happen with a full eruption and Lahore.  Part II, the allegro, was two lovers running first left, then right, trying now in disbelief, then later in panic, to save themselves.  This piece seemed to bridge the Romantic period and the Modern period, albeit through the chagrin of the end of innocence that was the “Belle Epoch,” and the stark reality of modern life represented by the advent of  “modern” 20th Century warfare. Mr. Levin efficiently “killed” the Griffes!

After intermission, Mr. Levin ended with music’s milestone epic, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Opus 106, the Hammerklavier.  Written at the end of Beethoven’s life, after his “Heroic” period, this dark and semi-tragic piece featured the opening “Allegro followed by the “Scherzo Assai vivace where two differently keyed voices were introduced.  One was in B-flat and the other was in B Minor.  The 18 minute “Adagio sostenuto” with its sweeping beauty lulled the audience to quietness.  The “Largo – Allegro risoluto” shook and evoked black meeting white, as no doubt Beethoven must have planned when writing this while deaf. The ten minute long Largo ended with a cadence of full-throated baritone chords ringing like sustains from a pipe organ.  The forty-five minute Hammerklavier was played with virtuosity.  Mr. Levin’s lengthy narrative introduction of the Hammerklavier seemed a bit tedious; but, upon the conclusion of its performance, the preview of the story proved necessary – considering the state of the story of lost love, and the state of Beethoven’s health and mind at the time the Hammerklavier was written and first performed.

This concert was no walk in the park filled with the sounds of Strauss waltzes and the sound of the Moonlight Sonata: It was a tour de force filled with wild hunts, volcanic eruptions, resounding thuds, trumpeting horn calls, lovers on the run and other 17th through 21st Century quarrels for the ears. Before there were movies, there was the visual story telling of this kind of music:  sounds producing sights!  Jonathan Levin treated us, and tricked us with a polished autumn concert of masterful works, performed masterfully. It was a sight to behold!

The concert was held Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm. at the Lummi Island Congregational Church

Mr. Levin, a resident of Brooklyn, N Y. was a finalist  in the 2011 Seattle International Piano Competition this year, in the professional category. He is the founder of the North Carolina Piano Festival held in February in Clayton, North Carolina.

Reviewed by Russ Thompson, October 24, 2011.  Lummi Island WA.

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