Throughout his career pianist Michael Lewin has been fascinated by music inspired by birds and has often included these pieces on his recitals. If I were a bird is a diverse, charming selection that brings together 20 avian pieces from the Baroque to the 20th century. The most impressive and substantial work is a highly effective transcription of three movements from Stravinsky's Firebird Suite made by Guido Agosti, and Lewin plays it with ferocious intensity and it's a real show-stopper. Lewin is especially compelling in the dazzling virtuoso repertoire -- the late Romantic showcases like the character pieces by Josef Hoffmann, Theodor Leschetizky, and Edward MacDowell -- and in the really substantive works like the movements from Schumann's Waldszenen, Granados' Goyescas, Ravel's Miroirs, and Messiaen's early Preludes. The extravagantly ornamented Baroque pieces by Rameau and Daquin, originally for harpsichord, are delightfully quirky. He is less persuasive in lyrical works like Saint-Saëns' The Swan, which lacks the singing legato line it needs.
As might be expected, because of the subject matter and the fact that many of these are explicitly descriptive pieces, the center of gravity of the majority of them tends to be in the treble range of the keyboard. That becomes problematic only because the sound is on the unforgivingly bright side and is not especially deep. The lack of warmth and resonance, especially in the lower register, is most notable in the more lyrical selections.