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Maria Lettberg: Zara Levina, Piano Concertos

review zara levina x1 cong

Zara Aleksandrovna Levina died in 1976 and, as you might guess, was a Soviet pianist and composer, now sadly languishing in relative obscurity.

This new CD from (mainly) pianist Maria Lettberg aims to put that right, and it’s a pleasingly varied programme of music; you wouldn’t necessarily guess it was all the same composer. The interweb reports that Levina mainly wrote choral works but these included romances and children’s songs, as well as other vocal music, two piano concertos and solo piano works.

As a youngster, Levina admired Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Schumann and the opening piece is clearly influenced by these. Piano Sonata No.1 is Russian, atmospheric and melodramatic: the whole keyboard gets a thorough dusting with this one, though it varies in tone across its five minutes. We also think Levina was a fan of jazz, as some of the melody seems to head off in that direction, and occurs more plainly in other parts of the programme.

Poem (version for viola and piano) follows and the viola creates a gentle sound, more English pastoral than Russian steppes, though there is a Russian air of maudlin about it.

Violin Sonata No.2 gives the violin a thorough working out in its Allegretto, accompanied by the piano, the three-movement piece then slowing down, the closing Allegro being a lively, breezy section and less Russian.

Elsewhere, Phantasie nach baskirischen Themen opens with the violin, a riff that seemed to be from the world of folk / jazz (we tracked it down to sounding like La Politique from Ignatus, a French folk band led by a man who plays clarinet and bass clarinet); Kanzonetta is gentle and almost chamber music. A varied programme from an under-rated composer.

This is out on Capriccio, C5356.

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