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Frank Ezra LEVY (1930-2017)
Piano Concerto No. 6 (2014) [14:11]
Divertimento Concertante for Viola, Piano and orchestra (2013) [21:43]
Divertimento for Clarinet, Strings and Piano (2013) [14:21]
Dialogue for English Horn and Strings (2016) [7:53]
Viola Concerto No. 2 (2013) [15:18]
Timon Altwegg (piano)
Hana Gubenko (viola)
Andreas Ramseier (clarinet)
Barbara Jost (cor anglais)
Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse/Gilles Colliard
rec. 2016, L'Escale, 31170 Tournefeuille, France
GUILD GMCD7809 [73:38]

This is not the first time that there has been a CD of music by Frank Ezra Levy. Back in 2006 both David Dunsmore and David Blomenberg reviewed a Naxos disc of four of his orchestral works from the period 1977-2003. This Guild disc stands in line with the Naxos and lets us hear five of his scores from the last few years of his life.

Born in Paris and an emigrant to the USA in 1939, like Erich Zeisl he studied composition with Hugo Kauder who was himself a composer. Levy's instrument was the cello, so quite naturally when he went to Juilliard he worked on his instrument with Leonard Rose. Later, in Chicago, his studies were conducted with Janos Starker. He was remarkably prolific and his worklist featured 15 symphonies, 20 string quartets and much else.

Guild's five pieces are economical in length and expression. They bespeak a composer who had no truck with modernistic experimentalism, fashionable tropes or anything less than writing music that reaches back to Martinů, Wirén and Von Koch. For example, the Piano Concerto No. 6, in three movements, has all the poignancy and dynamic forward impulse of a Martinů Piano Concerto. It's busy, rhythmically speaking, but not so patterned that it is distant from humanity. The Divertimento concertante is in six movements characterised by brevity; none longer than 4:01. The first movement has the two soloists hectically at work. The themes they make play with have more 'juice' in them than the comparative desiccation found in Gustav Holst's two Fugal works - the Concerto and the Overture. This work reminds me of Gordon Jacob's much earlier First Viola Concerto, Holst's viola work, the Lyric Movement and Walton's problematic Viola Concerto. The second movement shivers with haunting tendrils of melody. Its shudders place it close to de Falla's El Amor Brujo. You can hear more of this in the central Allegro alongside resonances from the Martinů Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani. There's desolation at war with tenderness in the Moderato and acerbic disillusion in the Larghetto. Only the finale lets us down with its dried "sewing-machine" pages and fugal conventionality.

Lilting compassion can be felt in the give and take of the first two and fourth movements of the Divertimento for Clarinet, Strings and Piano. This spell is broken by the clarinet’s yelping and tongue-twisting trickery in the Vivace. The finale sets out its stall with cheery mellifluousness. A return to tender feelings verges on melancholy and deference in the single-movement Dialogue for English Horn and Strings. Lastly comes the four-movement Viola Concerto No. 2. The writing here is questing and querulous in the slow sections and chuggingly invigorating in the two Adagio moltos (II and IV). The viola is kept staggeringly active and eloquent. Although you expect the solo instrument in a concerto to hog the limelight, the viola is certainly not notable here for its modesty. Even so, Levy, with unshakeable confidence, lets this concerto peter out into silence, leaving things deliciously unresolved.

Levy's shade is unlikely to be dissatisfied with these performances which seem sympathetic and radiate feeling. This comes about courtesy of healthful performance values matched with the excellence of audio choices made by Guild's technical team; a team that includes both Michael Ponder and Peter Reynolds.

Rob Barnett



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