The title of 18-year-old Israeli/French pianist Yoav Levanon’s solo debut CD “A Monument for Beethoven” refers to a statue of Beethoven unveiled in Bonn in 1845 to which the four composers featured on this disc contributed. William Meredith’s terrific booklet essay discusses the 1845 Beethoven Festival in detail. However, there’s no music of Beethoven here, nor any written material about the pianist or the works in hand. Furthermore, the aforementioned Beethoven event has no direct connection with the repertoire.
Levanon is more than just the faux-Liszt fashion plate depicted in the booklet photos. He’s basically an emotive and rhetorical pianist, who largely shoots from the hip, figuratively speaking. His Liszt Sonata features breathtaking virtuosity and fascinating phrasing, such as his fluid harmonic parsing of the infamous octave passages, and his astutely voiced fugue. Yet he milks the lyrical sections, gilding every melodic lily and sniffing at the roadside posies to the point that the rhythm dissipates and the energy flags.
On the other hand, Levanon’s brisk yet never rushed Chopin Op. 45 Prelude receives an impassioned reading that holds its own alongside the classic Cortot and Michelangeli traversals. What impressive color and variety of articulation he brings to Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, even though you get tighter-knit tempo relationships and dynamic attentiveness from Horowitz, Richter, Perahia, and Thibaudet.
Some listeners may find Levanon’s Schumann Fantasy too impulsive and capricious, and it’s certainly not so contrapuntally astute and cogently paced as an earlier Warner release from Leif Ove Andsnes. Nor will you find Sergio Fiorentino’s sweeping gravitas, Wilhelm Kempff’s poetic respose, or Vladimir Horowitz’s coiled energy. Instead, Levanon’s extroverted and ardent approach is akin to Evgeny Kissin’s grippingly freewheeling RCA recording. He plays the Liszt/Paganini La Campanella elegantly and effortlessly, and with suppler passagework than either Lang Lang or Daniil Trifonov.
I look forward to hearing how this gifted pianist will develop and (hopefully) deepen; he’s definitely a talent to watch. However, as for this release’s so-called concept, let me paraphrase Daffy Duck by saying: “monument, schmonument!”