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Michaël Levinas Portrait - pianist and composer

CD1/2 J.S.Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, book 1,
CD3/ Beethoven : Piano Sonatas Nos 14, 21, 23, 29,32
CD5 Schumann: Carnaval, Etudes symphonique, Papillons,
CD6 Fauré songs: La bonne chanson, Vingt Mélodies-deuxième recueil, Après un rêve,
CD7 Scriabine: The piano etudes,
CD8 Ligetti / Levinas: Piano Etudes,
CD9/10/11 Levinas: Quatuor à cordes No.1, Les Lettres entrelacées, Froissements d’ailes. Arsis et Thésis, ou La Chanson du soufflé, Les “Aragon”, Ouverture pour une fête étrange, Les Rires du Gilles, Concerto pour un piano-espace No.2, Clov et Hamm, Contrepoints irréels – Rencontres, La Conférence des oiseaux

Double Face Accord:4764269
[11 CDs - £42 from Discovery Records UK]

This boxed set is difficult to evaluate; reactions will be personal and variable.

Michaël Levinas (like Giacinto Scelsi) benefitted from tolerant parents who did not curb their enthusiasm for improvising on the piano as very small children. Both became superb pianists and doubled a "composers"; Scelsi's published piano oeuvre was mostly notated from recordings of his improvisations.

Levinas (b. 1949, son of famous philosopher Emmanuel Levinas) became an exceptional recitalist, regrettably almost unknown in UK... An interview in the booklet with this box tells how from age four he developed a pianistic virtuosity "absolutely through aural/oral tradition, not through reading; by reconstructing works in the fingers, not reading them, his hands were able to do absolutely anything". He had a "harmonic sense" protected by his mother to prevent contamination by "modern" music of the time. He found music on paper a continung obstacle into adulthood.

So I listened to these recitals without scores, and found his Bach 48 unexpectedly gripping - "the Bach of my childhood remains sublime", says Levinas - it is at an opposite pole to Glen Gould's. His Beethoven and especially his Schumann - the most recent of these recordings - are deeply engaging "composer's interpretations", with staggering virtuosity and velocity at times.

On the other hand, a disc of Fauré chansons is a sheer delight; is there a better version of the oft-recorded La bonne chanson* to be found than Magali Léger's with Levinas (2007), who shows himself an ideal piano partner? - available separately.

Always the sound of his pianos (mostly Steinways) is captivating, with no worries about historical appropriateness. These discs have some of the most beautiful piano sounds you'll ever hear, with complete command of texture and balance, together with a very personal way with the pedal.

Michaël Levinas' own music is far more problematic and may well be found repellent; he admits it was not well liked. His works of the 1990s were disparaged then with talk of brutalism; he takes a relaxed philosophical view that attitudes change with time. There are no specifics about it in the booklet; my French-speaking wife was intrigued by his 53 mins La Conference des oiseaux" with vocal soloists and tape, but deplored the lack of texts or any real help. Perhaps Accord may be persuaded to remedy these absences on their website?

Peter Grahame Woolf

*For texts & traslations , see http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?SongCycleId=81