BBC Music Magazine - - ORCHESTRAL - Re­becca Franks

Pi­ano Con­cer­tos Nos 1 & 2

Maria Let­tberg (pi­ano); Ber­lin Ra­dio Sym­phony Orches­tra/ar­i­ane Ma­ti­akh

Capric­cio C5269

File this un­der ‘worth­while dis­cov­er­ies’. Zara Levina, born in Ukraine in 1906, was best known in her life­time for her songs and chil­dren’s mu­sic. But she also wrote two bold pi­ano con­cer­tos, here given vivid per­for­mances by Swedish pi­anist Maria Let­tberg and the

Ber­lin Ra­dio Sym­phony Orches­tra – cur­rently the only avail­able record­ing of the Sec­ond Con­certo and, it seems, the recorded pre­miere of the First.

Levina’s mu­sic may have faded in the pub­lic mem­ory, but th­ese two works re­veal a colour­ful and lively com­poser who knew how to move and en­ter­tain her au­di­ence. Levina stud­ied com­po­si­tion with Glière and Myaskovsky, and pi­ano with Vladimir Horowitz’s teacher Felix Blu­men­feld, but the First Pi­ano Con­certo of 1942 will have you think­ing ‘Rach­mani­nov’ – and you can tell that Levina was a pi­anist. This is mu­sic that ticks all the lat­ero­man­tic Rus­sian vir­tu­oso boxes: sweep­ing tunes, kalei­do­scopic orches­tral colours, mo­ments of lyri­cal re­flec­tion, pas­sages of de­mand­ing chordal pi­ano writ­ing. And it’s capped off with a jaunty, danc­ing finale that ends in tri­umphant peals, all per­formed with in­tox­i­cat­ing en­ergy by the Ber­lin mu­si­cians.

The one-move­ment Sec­ond Con­certo dates from a year be­fore Levina’s death in 1976, and makes a match­ing stylis­tic jump for­ward from the First Con­certo. By then she was grap­pling with chronic heart dis­ease and al­though she didn’t live to hear this piece’s pre­miere, she be­lieved it to be her best work. If the bi­og­ra­phy brings to mind a Mahle­rian aware­ness of one’s fate, the mu­sic is a vi­brant mer­rygo-round of a whole host of other in­flu­ences: Shostakovich, Prokofiev, a Stravin­sky-esqe trum­pet, a Ravel­like waltz. Yet it’s all chan­nelled into Levina’s dis­tinc­tive voice. This is a re­ally en­joy­able record­ing, in ex­cel­lent sound.

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