P1341. RAYMOND LEWENTHAL: Bach, Alkan, Saint-Saëns, Moszkowski, Dohnanyi & Chopin (incl. the latter's Sonata #3 in B). (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-982, Live Performance, 22 Sept., 1964, Town Hall, New York. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Raymond Lewenthal, a tall, dark, Mephistophelean looking pianist, returned to Town Hall last night for his first New York concert since 1951. The hall was well filled, full of pianists and curious music lovers who came not only to listen to Mr. Lewenthal in general, but for the specific purpose of hearing him play a good dollop of Charles Valentin Alkan. Alkan was an eccentric man who wrote eccentric music. Through the years he has had a following of connoisseurs, but few pianists have dared bring much of his music before the public, despite the endorsement of such notables as Busoni and Petri.
Mr. Lewenthal is a brave man. He set himself a task that at the end must have left his wrists limp. Alkan wrote strange piano music, some of it ferociously difficult. But it is not the kind of difficulty that is idiomatic to the keyboard as is the writing of Liszt and Chopin. The textures are thick and predominantly chordal, and as often as not the feeling is that of. a piano reduction. It was not for nothing that Alkan was called ‘the Berlioz of the piano’….And yet the man was an original. He could go along in a rather dull, plodding manner, as in the first two movements of the ‘Symphonie’, and then suddenly come to life with a startling conception. The last two movements of this four movement ‘Symphonie’ for piano solo are absolutely wild. Some of the writing is prophetic, some of it is inspired, all of it attests to a remarkable imagination. This was the high point of the Alkan part of the recital.
‘Le Festin d'Esope’, a series of short variations, is another wild and undisciplined work that mingles sheer banality with a few arresting conceptions. ‘La Vision’ and the Barcarolle (Op. 65, No. 6) are short and quiet pieces, the latter especially piquant. Obviously any pianist who wants to play Alkan must choose with care. Hearing the music was a fascinating experience, but did not disguise the fact that a good deal of what one heard belonged in the mists of history. The big moments, though, were well worth waiting for. Those two last movements of the ‘Symphonie’ were really tremendous.
Mr. Lewenthal is an impulsive pianist with a big technique, and by and large he did right well with the music. He is at his happiest when his strong fingers are in rapid motion. The last movement of Chopin's b minor Sonata, for example, was an example of unusually deft and powerful playing. Elsewhere in the work Mr. Lewenthal seemed so anxious to get his Alkan that the playing sounded a little rushed, a little perfunctory, too lacking in metrical variation.
In short, Mr. Lewenthal's interpretations could stand some relaxation and a greater touch of color. He has most of the other endowments of an important pianist, including first class musicianship and a really big technique when he puts his mind to it. What did he use to prop his wrist in those prestissimo left hand octaves that Alkan wrote into the last movement of the ‘Symphonie’? One's own wrist ached in sympathy.
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 23 Sept., 1964
"Born in San Antonio, Raymond Lewenthal was educated in Los Angeles from an early age, starting with Lydia Cherkassky, mother to famous concert pianist Shura Cherkassky. Lewenthal then entered the Curtis Institute of Music in order to study with Olga Samaroff. Posessing tremendous strength and a dazzling technique, Lewenthal soon gained a reputation as an up-and-coming pianist with a future interpreting modern works. His rendering of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto #3 was so compelling that in 1948 conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos engaged Lewenthal to play the solo part at a New York Philharmonic concert that Mitropoulos led. This was unusual as Mitropoulos was known for this work and under normal circumstances conducted it from the keyboard while playing the solo part himself. In 1952, Lewenthal recorded a version of Prokofiev's Toccata, Op. 11, for Westminister that is still regarded as one of the best-ever recordings of that work.
In 1953, Raymond Lewenthal was attacked by muggers in New York's Central Park and had both hands and arms broken in the struggle. Emotionally crushed by this misfortune, Lewenthal fled the United States, vowing never to perform again. However, once in Europe, Lewenthal began to retrain his hands under the patient guidance of Alfred Cortot. Also, Lewenthal's interest in musicology deepened and he began to undertake a study of neglected Romantic composers, in particular the work of Charles-Valentin Alkan. In 1963, Lewenthal returned to the U.S. and played a two-hour radio show on WBAI devoted to Alkan. Critical interest in both player and composer was enormously positive and Lewenthal repeated the program at a Town Hall concert in September 1964, his first in 11 years. In the intervening time, Lewenthal edited a selection of Alkan's music for Schirmer.
Lewenthal recorded the LP Piano Music of Alkan for RCA Victor in 1965 which was a critical success but not a big seller. Lewenthal justifed his existence to RCA through recording some more straightforward material for the label, but in 1971 he switched to Columbia Masterworks and instituted the Raymond Lewenthal Romantic Revival Series. This ran to only a few albums and Lewenthal's plan ran well beyond that, as he was then working on reviving composers such as Hummel, Herz, Thalberg, Henselt, and Czerny. By this time, some critics had begun to circle their wagons against Romantic revivalism and ridiculed Lewenthal for attempting to champion the cause of composers whose work was widely regarded as obsolete. After the Romantic Revival series came to an end, Lewenthal recorded no more and concertized little. However, Lewenthal's concept of a Romantic revival was not lost on younger pianists and nearly as soon as Lewenthal himself had died, there was a virtual explosion of recordings and performances in the genre through such pianists as Marc-André Hamelin, Stephen Hough, Piers Lane, and others. Critics still find reason to nitpick with Lewenthal and it is possible that he never fully recovered from his injuries at the hands of the muggers. There are times in Lewenthal's recordings where the technique has rough edges and he seems to have had some trouble projecting in quiet passages. But anyone who can even read the enharmonic spellings of scores such as Alkan's ‘Quasi-Faust’ has better than average ability and Lewenthal knew many of these difficult works by heart. Raymond Lewenthal coined the very term Romantic revival and would no doubt have been pleased with the strides the movement has made since his passing.”
- Uncle Dave Lewis, allmusic.com