Piano Phantoms / Michael Lewin

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PIANO PHANTOMS • Michael Lewin (pn) • SONO LUMINUS 92168 (65:56) NIEMANN Ghosts: Night on the Fleet. LYAPUNOV Round of Phantoms. GRIEG The Goblins’ Wedding...

PIANO PHANTOMS Michael Lewin (pn) SONO LUMINUS 92168 (65:56)

NIEMANN Ghosts: Night on the Fleet. LYAPUNOV Round of Phantoms. GRIEG The Goblins’ Wedding Procession at Vossevangen. LAUSIG The Ghost Ship. MEDTNER Wood Goblin. DVO?ÁK Goblins’ Dance. GOOSSENS A Ghost Story. TROYER Ghost Dance of the Zunis. KASKI Night Music of the Mountain Goblin. VALLIER The Ghosts at Restormel. BOLCOM Graceful Ghost Rag. FARJEON Some Goblins and Gnomes and Things. PRICE The Goblin and the Mosquito. BAINTON Goblin Dance. HILLER The Dance of the Phantoms. RIVÉ-KING March of the Goblins. SCHUBERT Spirit Dance (arr. Heller). SCHUMANN Ghost Variations

Theme recordings don’t always work, simply because the gimmick of the theme doesn’t always produce music of outstanding quality, but in this disc pianist Lewin seems to have been inspired by the learning of new pieces and thoroughly enjoyed making the disc. I, for one, also enjoyed listening to it.

A large part of the reason for my enjoyment was the fact that despite this “ghosts and goblins” theme, most of the music is really of a high quality. Little if any of it seems to have been written for effect, but merely to explore unusual melodic or harmonic structure by channeling ghostly titles. A quick glance at the list of composers immediately shows several whose reputations as good composers are undisputable—Niemann, Grieg, Medtner, Dvo?ák, Schubert, and Schumann—yet even the music of such composers as Sergei Lyapunov, Carl Tausig, Eugene Goossens, and Ferdinand Hiller are played here with consummate skill and high artistic commitment. Lewin, who won top honors in the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition and the William Kapell International Competition, is evidently an artist committed to excellence in phrasing and interpretation. Not for him the easy route of empty virtuosity: Lewin brings a fine sense of direction and continuity to everything he plays, and the result is a fascinating recital devoid of music one has heard time and time again.

Indeed, eight of the pieces on this disc (those by Troyer, Kaski, Farjeon, Price, Bainton, Hiller, Rivé-King, and Schubert) are world premiere recordings, and I was particularly delighted to see a piece on this disc by Florence Price, whose Piano Concerto I prize so highly. By giving just as much attention and energy to the music of lesser-known composers, Lewin elevates their music so that it sounds indistinguishable from that of the acknowledged masters. In fact, the “lightest”-sounding work on this program was actually Dvo?ák’s Goblin’s Dance, a nice piece but by no means a great one, and even here Lewin does his level best to raise its quality. (Oddly enough, Goossens’s A Ghost Story was a better piece than Dvo?ák’s!)

Harry Farjeon’s Some Goblins and Gnomes and Things turned out to be an excellent piece, as was Price’s The Goblin and the Mosquito. Hiller’s Dance of the Phantoms is merely an enjoyable little romp, but how Lewin plays it! A real surprise, to me, was the piece by Julie Rivé-King, a native Cincinnatian who studied with Liszt and performed with Carl Reinecke. It is another charming piece, but not as insubstantial as one might imagine in advance of hearing it.

Lewin wraps up his program with Schumann’s Ghost Variations, a work completely unknown to me, written in 1854 when the then-schizophrenic composer had a dream that ghosts and angels dictated this theme to him. His wife Clara was apparently upset by the music’s “other-worldly origins” and refused to allow it to be published; thus it did not appear until 1939. As Lewin points out in the notes, the music is “fragile, gentle and intimate, painfully private,” but really and truly, not “ghostlike” at all. Thus we come to the end of this fascinating and original compilation of offbeat piano pieces. Bravo, Michael Lewin!

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 28, 2013

  • UPC: 053479216823

  • Catalog Number: DSL-92168

  • Label: Sono Luminus

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák, Carl Tausig, Carlos Troyer, Edgar Bainton, Edvard Grieg, Ferdinand Hiller, Florence Beatrice Price, Franz Schubert, Harry Farjeon, Heino Kaski, John Vallier, Julie Rivé-King, Nikolai Medtner, Robert Schumann, Sergei Lyapunov, Sir Eugene Goossens, Walter Niemann, William Bolcom

  • Performer: Michael Lewin