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Yoav Levanon’s Rachmaninov EP

Jed Distler

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

Yoav Levanon’s debut recital for Warner Classics left the impression of an immensely gifted yet musically capricious youngster. This follow-up, digital-only EP release finds the young pianist more at home in Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux Op. 39.

The lyrical flexibility with which he shapes the opening C minor salvo’s swirling passagework differs from Vladimir Ashkenazy’s firm and steady architectural game plan, not to mention Levanon’s pearly legato and discreet use of the sustain pedal. By contrast, the pianist sustains his slow tempo for No. 2 by way of masterful pedaling, subjecting the hypnotic left-hand arpeggiated accompaniment to alluring half-tints and momentary blurrings here and there.

Although I prefer forthright and structurally compact renditions of No. 3 vis-à-vis Andrei Gavrilov or the young Sviatoslav Richter, Levanon’s lower-voltage interpretation allows for inner voices and bass lines to sing forth. Ditto the pianist’s relaxed yet linearly cogent No. 4. Levanon summons plenty of power in No. 5, despite occasional rhythmic lurching about and a tendency to pull back at climaxes.

I find Levanon’s understated lightness in No. 6 convincing on its own terms, aside from the pianist overly stretching out the opening scales; his traversal radically differs from the headlong power and authority of Rachmaninov’s own recording. However, he unifies No. 7’s mood contrasts into a gripping dramatic entity, yielding no quarter to Zlata Chochieva’s dark and desolate account.

In No. 8, Levanon’s right-hand double notes and undulating left-hand patterns go in and out of textural focus, in contrast to Roland Pontinen’s top to bottom clarity and ever-present counterlines. Unfortunately Levanon’s heavy and logy No. 9 proves anticlimactic–no match for Vladimir Horowitz’s galvanic sweep.

Although there’s certainly room in every Rachmaninov collection for Levanon’s finest moments, the most consistently satisfying Etudes-Tableaux Op. 39 cycles remain those by Ashkenazy (his 1988 Decca version), Chochieva (Piano Classics), and the young Nicholas Angelich (Harmonia Mundi).

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Angelich (Harmonia Mundi); Ashkenazy (Decca); Chochieva (Piano Classics)

    Soloists: Yoav Levanon (piano)

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