Prelude to Dawn

In two previous releases for SONO LUMINUS, both of which I reviewed on this blog: one, Citizen, a CD of world premiere recordings of music by Nolan Gasser, David T. Little, Augusta Gross, C. Price Walden, and William Grant Still, and two, Windows, in which he combined Schumann’s Kinderszenen with David Bruce’s The Shadow of a Blackbird and James Matheson’s Windows, the protean American pianist Bruce Levingston proved both his uncanny ability to felicitously combine the old with the new and his impressive technical equipment and musicality.

Levingston’s new album about to be released by SONO LUMINUS and appositely titled Prelude to Dawn is a response – in the artist’s own words – “to the surreal existence of the past year.”

Impeccably planned and annotated by the artist, lovingly produced by Dan Merceruio and Collin J. Rae, and brought to sonic life by recording engineer Daniel Shores Prelude to Dawn is an invaluable addition to any listener’s collection of recorded piano music.

The prolific though lesser known German composer Wolfgang Rihm keeps elegant company to Bach and Brahms with two of his piano preludes. Vaguely tonal, now animated, now delicate, soberly minimalistic, his music is upon first hearing unpredictable and yet surprisingly accessible.

In the monumental Bach-Brahms Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004, a work originally conceived for violin, Levingston mines for musical gold throughout the seventeen minutes duration of this longest of the nine compositions in the CD. Alternatively mournful, meditative, emotional, and elegiac in its sixty-four variations, this music, supposedly written by Bach following the death of his first wife, embraces both the wonders of life and the inevitability of death.

In the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 in Eb – allotted three tracks of the CD – seemingly simple moments alternate with the startling: an unpredictable chord progression here and there, passages of such chromatic complexity that they anticipate the Classicism of Haydn and even that of Mozart by decades, emotionally charged moments alternating with serene passages, singing melodies in the right hand juxtaposed to formidable chords in the bass, a majestic closing Allegro expressing sheer joie de vivre… Here Levingston and in the Bach-Busoni Chorale Prelude BWV 645 – Sleepers Awake! adopts reasonable tempi that allow breathing space and noble elegance to his playing.

Brahms – Chorale Prelude in A minor, Op. 122, no. 10 – I wholeheartedly long for a blessed end one of the composer’s last works, and the Theme and Variations in D minor, Op. 18b – both typical Brahms in their grandeur offer music in which the composer seems to be making peace with the inevitable onset of old age, the Op. 18b six variations range from the lovingly delicate to the intensely emotional, gradually progressing from intricacy to the serenity of the final variation.

Bruce Levingston’s magisterial playing of this music reaffirms his position as one of America’s great pianists.

Rafael de Acha