Saturday, March 19, 2022

St Martin in the Fields, London

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Yoav Levanon, Israeli-French, is eighteen. He cuts a foppish figure. His management biography drops the right names: Argerich, Babayan, Barenboim, Perahia, Schiff, Verbier Festival. He has the best of representation: Harrison Parrott. Plus, icing on the cake, an exclusive agreement with Warner Classics. Yet some evasively-worded blanks too. Winning, we’re told, “his first gold medal at an international piano competition in the USA,” aged five. Which one, neither the World Federation of International Music Competitions nor Alink-Argerich Foundation elucidating? “Guided by top piano professors.” Who?

Launching Harrison Parrott’s HP Futures Series in partnership with St Martin in the Fields, this filmed London debut recital – competing with amplified rock in Trafalgar Square, wailing police sirens and Saturday-night pub crowds – was a visiting-card designed to impress. Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, Schumann’s Opus 17 Fantasy dedicated to Liszt, Liszt’s B-minor Sonata dedicated to Schumann. Why place Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in such company eluded me, but there it was anyway. Levanon, witness the Mendelssohn, has facility. I’ve never in concert heard Schumann’s fearsome second movement climax tossed off at such speed or with such apparent ease, a walk in the park, not a jump missed. Drilled athleticism impresses superficially. But it’s not art, rarely are the consequences epic. Following an exodus of piano buffs at the interval, the Liszt Sonata sighed and stormed, but was never an organic, structured whole. Making light of its theatre and narrative, depriving it of angst and grandeur, losing to caprice the mystic poetry of its Adagio, eccentrically messing the scherzo-fugue, seemingly not that bothered about gravitas, placing himself first, added up to the kind of performance that must have had the great Lisztians of the past turning in their graves. Rightly or wrongly, I was left with an impression of sectional learning, of episodes strung together loosely, of emotions more faked than felt. Bitty, rash in tempo choices, the Gershwin, a Tom and Jerry outing, was surprisingly without style or rhythmic teeth, an attempt at flashiness without the flash. If you’re going to play this in public, then at least familiarise yourself with the manner. From Earl Wild and Liberace to Bernstein and Previn there’s no shortage of models.

Levanon brings to the table a platter of affectations. The exaggerated hand on heart – he’s not Rubinstein or Horowitz. The sudden extremes of very quiet/super ‘lyrical’ – egg-shell pianissimos, unequally voiced – opposing very loud/crude. The climactic surges that passionlessly never climax. The inclination to let excitably over-pedalled fortes override detail and clarity. The voltage oscillating tempo map that never finds a straight road. The ‘precious’ deliberated silences, hands hovering, preparing each number down even to the encores – Chopin’s C-sharp minor Prelude Opus 45 (opium clouded), Liszt’s La Campanella (twisted dubiously). The swirling-finger choreography preceding Rhapsody in Blue phased comedic caricature to the equation. Fool around at home with your friends by all means, but don’t risk it before an audience unless you’re a Dudley Moore or ‘Mr Bean’.