WINDOWS / BRUCE: The Shadow of the Blackbird. SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen. Arabeske. MATHESON: Windows / Sono Luminus DSL-92218
Pianist Bruce Levingston presents us with a program of old and new, the old being Schumann’s played-to-death cycle Kinderszenen and Arabeske and the new being world premiere recordings of David Bruce’s The Shadow of the Blackbird and James Matheson’s Windows. The Bruce piece, in two movements, is tonal yet modern, melodic in form but neoclassic in style. It’s a fascinating piece, however, and Levingston’s crisp, no-nonsense keyboard approach brings out the work’s fascinating structure as well as its strange undercurrent of darkness. The album is described in the publicity blurb as “haunting,” and this surely applies to the second movement of Shadow, which is quiet and atmospheric yet in no way sentimental or treacly. It is here, and in similar other moments in the album, that Levingston shows his mettle as an artist, evoking an otherworldly mood without slipping into banality. And the piece itself is also interesting, sounding somewhat Oriental in its particular use of harmony.
Levingston also plays the familiar Kinderszenen with a delicate touch, reminding me in some respects of the classic performances that Clara Haskil gave of this chestnut back in the 1950s. And yet Levingston applies his own touches, such as the nice swagger he gives to “Kuriose Geschichte,” as well as his own particular way of bringing out the left-hand runs in “Hasche-Mann.” On the other hand, I found “Traümerai” too slow and mannered for my taste. Levngston also brings a softer, more romantic profile to the Arabeske.
But Matheson’s Windows is an exciting, interesting modern work. Set in five movements titled “Jeremiah,” “Isaiah,” “Crucifixion,” “The Good Samaritan” and “The Rose,” it evidently has some kind of Biblical reference, but none of that is particularly clear in the promo blurb. As music, however, it is varied and interesting, the first piece starting out with a nerve-wracking clang on the keyboard, followed by dark, atonal bass notes, following which the music gradually becomes quieter but also somewhat menacing. “Isaiah” starts with repeated high Fs in the treble, followed by nervous jangling in an asymmetrical 4/4. The brief development section incorporates these figures and others in a staccato attack that is the aural equivalent of guillotine chops. By contrast, “Crucifixion” is sad and dolorous, while “The Good Samaritan” sets up a gently rocking rhythm, again with repeated notes in the upper range, which continues on different notes in different ranges on the piano. I didn’t care for this one much; it sounded too much like minimalism to me (which I loathe). “The Rose” also sets up a repeated rhythm, but slower and with more ominous overtones. Despite the repeated rhythms, the music shifts in color and range with changing bass lines and interesting chord structures.
All in all, an interesting disc, particularly for the two new pieces.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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