Levy: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also, Cello Concerto No. 2; Rondo Tarantella; A Summer Overture. Scott Ballantyne, cello; Takua Yuasa, RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Naxos 8.559234.

OK, Frank Ezra Levy is not exactly a name that jumps out at you, but he is one of the composers the folks at Naxos showcase in their "American Classics" series. And for good reason. Born in 1930, Mr. Levy has been composing music for the better part of seven decades. This album contains four of his works, mostly world premieres of short pieces, three of them written in the past decade or so.

Things begin with his Summer Overture (1997), a sprightly affair with plenty of gusto to get the show rolling. Following that is the more substantial Cello Concerto No. 2 (2002), with soloist Scott Ballantyne. Levy is himself a cellist, so he knows the instrument. The opening Allegro shows a hint of melody, with orchestral support used discreetly, the players sometimes sounding like a chamber group. Levy calls his piece a "kaleidoscope construction," and it certainly runs the gamut of emotional moods. The second movement Adagio works best, a lovely dialogue between soloist and orchestra. However, the final movement breaks out into such exhilarating jubilation, it's hard to tell that it belongs in the same piece. Here you'll find some nice percussive effects, with the cello, oddly, less dominant. Then we get the Rondo Tarantella (2003) from an opera Levy composed called Mother's Day, the abundance of percussion, drums, cymbals, you name it, emphasizing the music's episodic, comic tone.

Things close out with the brief, twenty-minute, two-movement Symphony No. 3 (1977). It's the oldest work on the disc, written when the composer was a mere stripling of forty-seven. Again we hear the music's kaleidoscope effect, with themes turning every which way and returning in different guises. The slow dirgelike beginning sets the mood, but it eventually opens up to a lovely, sunny middle section with vaguely Scottish, pastoral inflections. Finally, the symphony returns to a more somber tone, leading to a Vivace conclusion with marchlike cadences.

Maestro Takua Yuasa and RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland play all of this with great flourish and sincerity. Moreover, the Naxos sound is fairly advantageous. It displays modest but pronounced orchestral depth; a touch of hardness; a clean, well-balanced frequency range; some strong, well-focused bass outbursts; and clear, sparkling highs. It's worth a listen.


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