David Oberg

Ernest Levy: Symphony Number Twelve

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Remembered as a concert pianist yet all but forgotten as a composer, Ernst Levy was a talented, quirky musician who impressed admirers with his remarkable abilities as often as he baffled critics with the liberties he took in his performances of the Romantic repertoire. It is debatable whether his piano recordings from the 1950s will last, but there is little reason to expect longevity for his compositions. His labored Symphony No. 12 (1951) was composed to fill out a program featuring Hugo Kauder's setting of James Joyce's poetry, "Chamber Music" (1951). Levy's seven-movement chamber symphony was almost an hour long, more than twice the duration of the 25-minute song collection it was meant to supplement, and it was not complementary in form, mood, or approach. This is not an especially lyrical piece, and its angular counterpoint, overly complicated developments, and lifeless orchestration make it a tough piece to plod through. It is too academic in its numerous fugal expositions and too arcane in its formal scheme to seem like a proper match for anything as light and short as songs. Even the seventh movement -- composed for the same vocalists required in Kauder's work -- is cerebral, meandering, and excessively episodic, which makes it an ordeal for anyone who listens that far without nodding off. The performance on this 2005 CD is merely adequate, as if David Oberg and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra had given the work an accurate reading but not much polish; and soprano Jane Schoonamaker Rodgers, alto Tina Bunce, and tenor Christopher Scholl seem to deliver their parts securely enough, though with little emotional communication. Opus One's sound quality is clear, but airless and lacking warmth.

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