Bruce Levingston: Windows
Bruce Levingston’s annual solo CD releases follow a pattern consisting of a poetic title and a programme interweaving old and new music. ‘Windows’ is true to form, with works by David Bruce and James Mattheson (both b1970) bracketing Schumann’s venerable Kinderszenen and Arabeske.
The first movement of David Bruce’s The Shadow of the Blackbird uses the opening notes from Schumann’s Kreisleriana to launch a rhapsodic, Spanish-tinged fantasia that slows down into an introspective chordal episode anchored by slow repeated notes. The repeated notes return in the manner of flamenco-like flourishes as the music builds to a climax and slowly retreats to a quiet conclusion. Next to this movement’s freewheeling flow, the slow and sparsely lit second movement seems like an anticlimax. Reversing the movements might guarantee better box office but for now I’ll grant David Bruce the benefit of the doubt.
Doubt, however, is the operative word in regard to Levingston’s Kinderszenen. The pianist follows his overstressed opening piece with a rhythmically stiff No 2 and a No 3 hampered by ambling detached articulation. The child depicted in No 4 is not so much pleading as emoting, while Levingston lays heavily into No 5’s inner lines. Happily, No 6’s pompous processional chords are spot-on; but the pianist’s overly protracted No 7, ‘Träumerei’ (‘Dreaming’), ought to be retitled ‘Comatose’. By No 8, one really begins to notice Levingston’s irritating habit of starting certain pieces under tempo and gradually picking up speed. No 9’s hobby-horse has rarely sounded so heavy-handed and foursquare. Levingston’s slow-motion crawl through No 13, ‘Der Dichter spricht’ (‘The Poet Speaks’), also warrants a new title: ‘Der Dichter stirbt’ (‘The Poet Dies’). Similarly, Levingston’s sensitive and intimately shaped Arabeske is let down by a deathly slow coda.
James Matheson’s title selection is a five part suite depicting a series of stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall. Much of the music evokes the statically sonorous, declamatory keyboard aesthetic characterising many of Olivier Messaien’s works or Liszt’s late style, with Philip Glass peering in for a look. Yet Matheson goes his own creative way. The second-to-last movement is constructed from obsessive yet carefully crafted arpeggios that start in the piano’s high registers and gradually descend to the bass, returning upwards. There’s also impressive textural and emotional variety in the final movement’s long chains of repeated bass notes and reiterated chords.
Sono Luminus’s resonantly ample engineering particularly lends itself to Matheson’s vibrant writing and Levingston’s compelling, colourful pianism. Judging from this release, Levingston is far better suited to new music than he is to Schumann.