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Friday, April 21, 2006
happy happy happy happy…

Bruce Levingston, piano
Works by Glass, Ravel, Messiaen, Satie
Orange Mountain Music

I have a confession to make: I don’t “get” Philip Glass. It’s not that I dislike everything of his that I’ve heard; I found moments in his 2nd symphony quite tolerable, and (on Jerry’s recent recommendation) I found myself liking his 8th symphony as well. However, for someone who recycles so many of his ideas and doesn’t even orchestrate all of his own music, I’ve never quite understood the level of his popularity. This is not to say that I'm trying to justify my opinion; I am simply providing you with the grain of salt with which to take this review.

Perhaps I’ve already spent too much time on Glass, as his A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close occupies only the first two tracks on Bruce Levingston’s new disc, Portraits. However, since this is the Contemporary Classical Music Portal, you’ll have to forgive me for focusing a bit on the only work here that has been completed in the past 48 years. Levingston premiered A Musical Portrait last year at Alice Tully Hall to (from what I gather) generally positive reviews. The piece is split into two movements which are meant to represent Chuck Close, an artist and friend of Glass for many years. An interesting and even moving concept, but I must confess that I found the execution to be lacking.

The first movement starts with a very Glass-like repetition of A major and minor chords in the left hand, which is then accentuated with more A major chords in the right hand. That block eventually gives way to some cascading scales, and the whole thing repeats itself a couple times with some variation. The second movement is darker in nature, though it sounds like something straight out of Amelie. The more and more that I listened to this piece, the less interesting I found it. I suppose it comes down to this: if you like most of what Philip Glass writes, you’ll probably like this piece. Otherwise, it didn’t strike me as anything altogether different from what I’ve heard in the past.

For propriety’s sake, I should mention the rest of the disc as well. After A Musical Portrait, the program consists entirely of French composers. Levingston progresses from Glass to the proto-minimalism of Ravel’s La vallée des cloches, followed by its Miroirs companion Alborada del gracioso. La Vallée has always been a personal favorite within Ravel’s canon, and Mr. Levingston handles it well, with sensitivity and an ability to fully realize the rich colors of the piece.

That gift for color serves Levingston well in the next trio of pieces by Messiaen: L’échange and Regard de la Vierge from the epic Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus, and L’Alouette Lulu from Catalogue d’Oiseaux. From there the disc finishes off with three works by Satie; Sarabande No. 2, Gnossienne No. 4, and Gymnopédie No. 1. Whatever you might think of Satie’s Musique d'ameublement, it fits into the program quite well, and Levingston sends it off with a gentle touch.

In spite of my reservations about the first piece on the disc, I enjoyed it overall. The various tracks are laid out very well, flow evenly, and complement each other nicely. It is a quiet program for the most part (Alborada not withstanding), playing to Mr. Levingston’s apparent strengths. Though I imagine many potential listeners will be drawn to Glass’ presence on the disc, they’ll be rewarded by everything that follows.


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