Daniel Levy’s playing of the Campanella study by Franz Liszt, which here demonstrates the virtuoso and experimental Liszt in the context of a programme of Italian Liszt works, reveals many aspects of the temperament and artistic objectives of a musician who has shown himself in recent years to his international public to be both a man of earnest character and one who delights in literary discoveries.
From amongst the mass of highly-trained, muscular, competitive athletes with more recent dates of birth, the critical observer of the international piano scene must be pleasingly affected when a performer is for once, both willing and capable of approaching Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Schumann’s chamber music and certain items from the varied oeuvre of Franz Liszt from a non-sporting viewpoint. Levy showed how pensive, how sensuously meditative the widely neglected, indeed the underestimated pieces by Grieg are. And in the various Schumann programme items, he also showed how important it is to protect the warmth of the language, and the warmth of the sensation, like a valuable fire by which one might blissfully settle down.
Liszt’s Campanella study gives us an insight into this piano-sensualist of restrained brio. The tempo has been carefully selected, but is by no means reflective. For, in this environment, exaggeration in the initial speed will result in easily gained bonus points in terms of the little finger’s first leaps in the bell descant, but infallibly it will lead to minus points in terms of the complexities that follow, when the theme is decorated or, in truth, varied by Liszt.
Levy takes his time, as though observing the scenery. The piece and the event painted by Liszt are allowed to unfold. In fact, each variation develops from the preceding one. In the detail one can detect a love for the smallest note, for the most minor phrasing. In a manner of speaking, Levy shows the listener the bells of a campanile, which is not identified in any greater detail; he also shows us around the nearby alleys, he introduces us to a colourful Italian life-style.
In the final analysis: a study becomes a character essay, a situation of technical extremity becomes a moving picture with a foreground and a background – and with living actors, who are not specifically named by the piano.
Daniel Levy’s art rests on a warm, humane piano tone, which in passages of emotional intensity does not lack vitality or shading.
This is particularly clear in the course of the great C-major fantasia (op.17) in his new Schumann recording – the first CD of a complete performance of Schumann’s piano works.
Drama, certainly, but not at the expense of musical continuity. It is a game of fantasy, which appears to have its home in the gentle, in the indirect and in the sheltered – and after Schumann’s desired journeys into the regions of uneasiness, it infallibly returns, once again to the realms of gentle excitement and fulfilled contentment. Levy should and will be measured against his own yardstick, above all by the yardstick of an introverted musical nature that certainly searches for the listener, but does not seek effect or the musical boulevard. His interpretations of both of Franz Liszt’s Legends make that clear, note by note and bar by bar.
I should like to call it passionate thoughtfulness, which distinguishes Levy both here and on other occasions and which lets us recognise the greatness of his playing.
Peter Cossé (Germany)
Music critic for Fono Forum, Opernwelt, Osterreichische Musikzeitschrift, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Kölner Runddschau, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitunggg, ORF TV, Bayrischer Rundfunk, WDR – ZDF – ARD (German Televisions).