Bruce Levingston’s Nightbreak: Nocturnes for a Dark Time of Year
[republished from New York Music Daily’s older, more sober sister blog Lucid Culture]
Bruce Levingston, one of the go-to pianists in the shadowy world where indie classical meets the Romantics, has an excellent new album of nocturnes just out on Sono Luminus, titled Nightbreak. The new album’s big drawing card is the world premiere of a new piano arrangement of Philip Glass’ Dracula Suite. It’s a characteristically hypnotic, circular theme based on a descending progression, Glass at his catchiest and most accessible. In fact, this version bears a closer resemblance to the dark rock music of artsy 90s bands like Blonde Redhead or DollHouse than it does to the Indian music that Glass has drawn on for decades. Levingston plays this stripped-down version of what was originally a string quartet plaintively and sensitively: this Dracula is a genuinely tragic character.
There’s more eye-opening (or ear-opening) material here as well. The Liszt homages long since reached overkill point this year, but Levingston has pulled a trio of particularly vivid, impressively dynamic, lesser-known works out of the archives. He takes the crescendoing overture Vallee d’Obermann from Chopinesque pensiveness to a carefully precise crescendo and follows that with warm, contemplative takes on the Nocturne from Les Cloches de Geneve and Les jeux d’eaux. The Brahms pieces afterward: Intermezzo, Op.116, No.4; Ballade in D minor, Op.10, No.1;and the Waltz in D minor, Op.39, No.9 are period pieces, nothing special, even if they’re as warmly melodic as you would expect. And then Wolfgang Rihm’s Brahmsliebewaltzer, just a hair strange enough to be really creepy instead of the Brahms homage that the title hints at, sets the stage. Alone in a darkened room, The Count!