Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music

Oscar Levant
The Pittsburgh-born pianist, composer, author, actor, and (in later years) professional neurotic Oscar Levant (1906-1972) probably doesn't need any introduction to my readers, but perhaps this particular album does, for with the exception of the oft-reissued Gershwin preludes, it is comparatively rare. It actually was his first, issued in mid-1942, when he was already famous for his role as a panelist on the radio quiz show "Information Please" and as the author of the best-selling "A Smattering of Ignorance", and, in some respects, the most satisfying of the dozen or so albums he would make for Columbia:

Oscar Levant in a Recital of Modern Music:
Gershwin: Three Preludes
Debussy: Les Collines d'Anacapri
Debussy: Jardins sous la pluie
Jelobinsky: Etudes, Op. 19, Nos. 1 and 2 
Shostakovich: Prelude in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Shostakovich: Polka from "The Golden Age"
Ravel: Sonatine - Menuet
Levant: Sonatina - First movement (Con ritmo)
Oscar Levant, piano
Recorded December 17, 1941, and January 20, 1942
Columbia Masterworks set M-508, four 10-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 54.67 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 40.61 MB)

Gershwin, Debussy, Ravel and Shostakovich are of course very well-known, but Levant the composer and Valery Viktorovich Jelobinsky (1913-1946) are far less so. The latter (whose name has also been transliterated "Zhelobinsky") was quite prolific in his short career, with six symphonies, three piano concertos and four operas to his credit. Shostakovich evidently thought highly of him, but posterity seems to have completely ignored him. This is the only recording ever made of the second of these two Etudes (from a set of six, which Horowitz championed for a time); Raymond Lewenthal later included the first one on a Westminster LP.


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    1. Thank you for making these available. I always enjoy listening to the various transcriptions of that particular Shostakovich polka. As for the unfortunate Jelobinsky I would susupect that his obscurity may be due to that close association with Shostakovich who became persona non grata in 1948. You just have to look at the fate of Weinberg and to a lesser extent Myaskovsky both were good composers condemned to obscurity because they were deemed 'politically incorrect'.

    2. Graham, actually the music of Weinberg (whose name in Soviet times was usually transliterated Vainberg) was played by the most eminent Russian artists in the 50s and 60s including Barshai, Kogan, Rostropovich, Gilels et al...I have a 10-inch MK LP of Kondrashin conducting his 4th symphony. His obscurity came only when the collapse of the Soviet Union obliterated public support for the arts there; fortunately his music seems to be enjoying a renaissance in recent years.

  2. Thank you very much indeed! I've been curious to hear this for some time - and I didn't realise until now that it contains an excerpt from Ravel's Sonatine, which makes it an N.G.S. 'duplication', something I try to keep tabs on. I knew Levant was a colourful character but I also didn't know about his radio work or "A Smattering of Ignorance", which sounds fun. All the best and, as ever, many thanks! Nick

  3. Thanks a million Bryan for that special post. I like a lot this versatile musician.....not only playing Gershwin ! For instance his interpretation of Tchaikovsky's PC1 under Ormandy remains one of my favorite. In addition to this, your post brings an opportunity to listen to the first mvt of his own (fantastically syncopated) sonatina and to discover some of the neglected Jelobinsky. GREAT !

  4. Anyone have a file of this above-mentioned Tchaikovsky?
    Ray Pratt/ Dr.Ray3

  5. A welcome gem......many thanks indeed.