P0088. ERNST LÉVY, Forgotten Genius, Vol. II, incl. Sonatas Nos. 31, 47, 60 & 61 (Haydn); Sonatas Nos. 23, 27, 28, 30 & 31 (Beethoven); Fantasy in d, K.397 (Mozart); Frühlingsstimmen (Johann Strauss), (the latter two from 1929 recordings). 2-Marston 52021. Transfers by Ward Marston. Very Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 638335202129
“The Swiss born Ernst Levy, pedagogue, composer, teacher, choirmaster, writer and – not least – astonishing pianist, here receives a second volume from Marston. Born in Basle he received training from Pugno and from Petri – illustrious teachers – and moved to Paris as a choral conductor giving the premieres of, amongst other things, Brahms’ German Requiem and Liszt’s ‘Christus’. He spent nearly thirty years in the United States having escaped from Paris before the Nazi onslaught. Retiring in 1966 he returned to the country of his birth and lived a long and contented life there, dying in 1981.
Once more, Levy’s Beethoven continues to provoke a wide divergence of responses. The ’Appassionata’ is a massive and mammoth delineation with huge dynamic gradients and rhythmic distensions. In the ‘Andante con moto’ there is a wonderfully deep sonority that activates the line but also occasional holdings back and dissipation of momentum that prove less convincing on second hearing. In the third movement there is an admixture of deliberation and almost vicious declamation and it strikes me as too fractious and devastatingly abrupt for full and proper clarity of articulation – however exciting and visceral it may be. Here Levy seems to sacrifice genuine internalised clarity for almost existential power. Levy’s pianism, especially his Beethoven, is one bound to divide opinion. He has a powerfully intellectualised vision and all the technical means at his disposal to commit that vision to the listener – but within it there is agogic and rhythmic licence that is equally powerfully personalized and will antagonise as much as it excites and convinces. No bad thing, perhaps, in Beethoven of all composers.
In Op 101 a convulsive flexibility courses through the Sonata with consistently enlightening results; its grandiloquent conclusion is full of affirmatory and triumphant playing. Op 109 though begins with a degree of rather fussy and manicured phrasing before Levy digs in and generates considerable reserves of drama and colour and energy – his technique is not simply robust, it’s fantastic. In the ‘Prestissimo’ second movement he is, following the indication, very quick but inner voicings are still brought out even at this speed and control is marked and triumphant. The opening movement of Op 110 is hardly ‘Moderato, cantabile molto expressivo’ in Levy’s hands and there is instead his by now accustomed disruptive and insistent phrasing. I hesitate to call this mannerism because it seems to me that that conveys entirely the wrong account of the meaning behind Levy’s Beethoven playing which is entirely above such point scoring or laziness of rhythmic inflection. It is powerfully thought out and absolutely engaged musicianship albeit of the type that will provoke considerable negative reactions as well as affirmatory ones. In the slow movement of the same movement for example I found his vigorous accents rather unsettling and the whole of the first part of the ‘Adagio’ similarly hobbled – disjunct and undercut – but he certainly picks up for the ‘Fuga’ which is full of expressive clarity – very special playing indeed.
His Haydn is romantic but not as willful or idiosyncratic as his Beethoven. The A-flat Sonata has delicious leading voices in the opening movement and an elevated nobility in the second. The finale points up the vivacity of Haydn’s writing. He catches the humour in the b-minor but equally has the confidence and acuity in Haydn playing to demonstrate true simplicity. The two final pieces are taken from his rare 1929 Sonabel 78s.
Volume Two lives up to the expectations generated by the earlier set. Levy is technically outstanding, architecturally and intellectually probing, a musician of conviction and powerfully individualized responses. For people who don’t know him – and that’s most people – they can now more fully become acquainted with a pianist who treats Beethoven as the colossus he is. In no small measure Marston adds to the merit by virtue of transfer quality and notes – in this volume a joint essay by Donald Manildi and Gregor Benko and a musical discussion by Frank Cooper. Responses to Levy will be definitively polarised but he’s a pianist who demands to be heard.”
- Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international.com
“During his tenure as the NEW YORKER’s classical music correspondent in the 1970s Andrew Porter made a special plea for the reissue of Ernst Levy’s American Unicorn recordings from the ’50s. More than two decades later his wish came true via a double CD set from Marston. Volume Two restores the remainder of these collector’s items to circulation. This is big playing from a technical and intellectual standpoint, to say nothing of the Swiss musician’s proud, deep-in-the-keys sonority, excellently captured via Peter Bartók’s engineering. Disc one opens with four Haydn sonatas, all projected with fleetness and wit in the finales, with operatically inspired slow movements. Levy’s way with late Beethoven (the Opp. 90, 101, 109, and 110 Sonatas, plus the ‘Appassionata’ Op. 57) proves equally compelling and individual. His style fuses the best qualities of several eminent Beethovenians: Backhaus’ elemental spirit, Schnabel’s thundering angularity, Arrau’s spacious detail, and Serkin’s nervous energy. As an addendum, producer Ward Marston includes two rare Levy 78s recorded in 1929: the Mozart d-minor Fantasy K. 397 and Johann Strauss, Jr.’s ‘Voices of Spring’. The Mozart is a shade reticent, while the Strauss is dispatched with dutiful efficiency, yet little charm. Excellent, insightful annotations from Donald Manildi, Gregor Benko, and Frank Cooper add luster to this significant reissue.”
- Jed Distler, Classics Today
"Another important piano discovery, Ernst Lévy, remains unknown to all but the most dedicated piano buffs – he is not even mentioned in Schonberg’s book on the great pianists –these defiantly personalized performances are utterly free of convention and burn with conviction….”
- Peter G. Davis, NEW YORK, 24 Aug., 1998