LEON ALIVE

THE PAST IMPERFECT
Who doesn’t remember Leon Levich? If there are three of you in a room, Leon tuned two of your pianos, and hocked you a chainick all afternoon about his own music and why it never gets played. Anyhow, he was at the latest “Chamber Music in Historic Sites” last Sunday, at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and his music did get played. At 81, he has gone a little cuckoo; he forgets the names of his old pals but remembers vividly his days in prison camp, in Italy during WWII. His music – a slow movement from a String Quartet and a “Phantasy” for flute and string trio, nicely played by Eugenia Zukerman and the Jacques Thibaud Trio – amounted to pleasant nothingness. But there was that  dear old man himself,  bathed in his own beatific smile, with an audience of his contemporaries paying him homage, and I guess that was enough.
The rest of the program was sterner stuff, with one work – Gideon Klein’s String Trio – actually composed in death camp mere weeks before the composer’s murder in the gas ovens. Sixty-four years later we are still confronted with this small repertory of music, including stage works, which demands consideration on humanistic grounds. Everything that I have heard – music by Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullman, Hans Krasa (whose Brundibár was largely completed before camp) and their unfortunate colleagues – is the work of well-trained middle-European practitioners, not yet endowed with an original voice. Kurt Weill, a single instance, rose above them, perhaps Paul Hindemith, the non-Jewish (if that matters). They had the carfare to escape.
LAST WORD: Don’t ask why it should be, but the most beautiful playing, the most deeply felt and most imaginatively set forth on both of Andrås Schiff’s two Beethoven programs here at Disney Hall were the encore pieces, neither of them byBeethoven. First came Bach’s “Italian Concerto,” whose slow-movement melody hung suspended like a perfectly formed cloud, rendering pointless any discussion about the wisdom of Bach on the piano (as Anderszewski’s Bach recital had done once again two days later). Then, a week later, Schiff capped a so-so recital, which included a rather brutalized renditin of the “Appassionata,” with the slow final movement of Schumann’s C-major Fantasia, and led me to believe that that movement might well be the high point in musical Romanticism. (Don’t laugh until you go and play it —  by Schiff if there’s a recording or by Brendel or Rubinstein — , and don’t dare breathe through that sublime modulation – you’ll  know which one when you come to it).
ANGELIC
Musica Angelica is now our flagship Baroque orchestra, much strengthened from ensembles claiming that position in the past and firmly in place under Martin Haselböck’s direction. This past weekend’s concert was its first of the season, with a predictable plateful by a couple of Bachs, the inevitable but welcome Vivaldi and Telemann and the impostor Johann Gottlieb Graun. I name him “impostor”; only a few years later than his Baroque program-mates, his music has already begun to slide into patterns that begin to sound clunky against the grace of his programmatic pals. On this weekend’s high-stepping program, he was the one with the club foot
Otherwise there was an interesting if irregular piece by a Bach cousin, Johann Bernard, with tiny movements that began and never really ended. Marion Verbruggen played a sopranino recorder in a Vivaldi concerto, and it sounded as if TinkerBell had come to visit. Later he joined with a more solemn instrument, against Vittorio Ghielmi’s viola da gamba, in a Telemann Double, Concerto. Mr. Ghielmi and Ilie Korol (the orchestra’s concertmaster) joined in the Graun Concerto. At the end another recorder player,  Rohem Gilbert, joined in from the orchestra and everybodu had the grandest of grand old times in Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto, music that always makes everybody want to join in, You couldn’t ask for a more fun concert than that.

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