Michael Lewin Gives
a Formidable Performance


By David Spear

David Spear was the first Artistic Director of the Shumei Art Council’s Concert Series. Pianist Michael Lewin closed the Shumei Arts Council 2000 - 2001 Concert Season with a piano recital in Shumei Hall on Sunday, February 11, 2001. David Spear served as the Artistic Director of the Shumei Arts Council of America's Concert Series from March, 1999 to April, 2001.

Michael Lewin, award winner of the 1986 International Liszt Competition, and the 1983 American Pianists Association Beethoven Fellowship, presented a formidable solo piano recital on Sunday afternoon, February 11, 2001. He gave the Petrof grand piano residing in Shumei Hall a tremendously muscular musical workout, fully realizing the capability of this beautiful instrument while also providing the audience with an equally enriching exercise in classical music appreciation. The program spanned over 200 years of traditional yet diverse solo piano masterworks from the Italian Renaissance to the 20th century.

The recital began with three delightful sonatas composed by Domenico Scarlatti that, in Lewin's hands, immediately transported us to Italy during that magical moment in musical history when the Renaissance went baroque. Mr. Lewin's technique is evident not only because he can play these contrapuntal pieces effortlessly, but because he savors the spirit of each theme with great strength and delicacy. Placing the slow movement in between the two outer faster pieces, the D Minor Aria pulled us gently to Scarlatti's wistfully sad side. Flamenco strumming and trilling propelled the dance of the D Major Sonata decisively with charm, gracefully ending this set.

Just as a great actor transforms himself into the character created by the author, Michael Lewin's extraordinary interpretive gifts seem to enable him to merge his musical mind with the composer's. It is amazing to not only hear how the piano sound changes depending on the composer, but how the recipe of notes is always being stirred, blended and whipped up into a bountiful feast for the ear. Lewin's presence is indeed powerful, however he is also capable of disappearing in favor of putting the music first. It wasn't just Michael Lewin presiding at the Petrof, it was also a procession of Prokofiev, Franck and Liszt who took center stage on Sunday afternoon.

Prokofiev's Sonata #6 in A Major, commonly known as the "War Sonata," was written in 1939 and is a very serious and demanding work for both the pianist and the audience. We heard the piano become an instrument of war, recreating sounds of machine gun fire, soldiers marching, sirens shrieking, moaning, and the painfully aching sound of silence. It's a harrowing piece of music, and has the smell of war in it, profoundly reminding us how precious it is to preserve peace on our fragile planet. This piece is a far cry from "Peter and the Wolf" but nevertheless puts the vital musical imagination of Serge Prokofiev right back into our contemporary consciousness.

As an educator, Michael Lewin's commitment to teaching and training brilliant young international pianists has culminated with his appointment as Chairman of the Piano Faculty at the Boston Conservatory of Music. His Shumei Hall piano recital became a natural platform extending Mr. Lewin's classroom and studio about 3000 miles to the west. It is a treat to listen to the pianist as teacher, and to learn so much more about the music from such a qualified and scholarly source. The coupling of Michael Lewin and a piano instantly transforms any room into a musical environment stemming from the legacy of Schubert "musicales" and Liszt "recitals." If Lewin only composed, he'd be a terrifying triple threat.

The second half of the concert allowed us to hear some passionate rhapsodizing on the rich textures woven by Cesar Franck in his challenging B Minor Prelude, Chorale and Fugue. Each movement presents its difficulties ranging from navigating out of endless arpeggios into cascades of crisscrossing recurring thematic counterpoint. This is a sprawling work requiring an eye and ear for monumental classical architecture. Lewin's masterful balancing of Franck's fluid forms coaxed a heavenly organ-like sound of the same piano that was being used moments before as an instrument of war.

The waltzes by Liszt concluded the program with elegance and wit. Although his Valse Oubliee #1 was somewhat forgettable, Liszt loved to adapt, arrange and improvise themes written by other composers, and the Concert Paraphrase on the Waltz from Gounod's Faust is a perfect example of one of these works. The Hall suddenly sounded like the opera, and the curtain was rising - in _ time. Lewin's passagework during this collaboration with Liszt and Gounod made the piano sound like a full orchestra. As if by magic, we were suddenly hearing an instant orchestration, accompanied by the overwhelming anticipation of drama and ensemble that thrives on the opera stage.

As in the opera, the audience gave Michael Lewin a standing ovation, and he served us a serious short epilogue with Scriabin's Prelude for the Left Hand. He needed to give his right hand a break, because the audience wouldn't let him go until hearing George Gershwin's snappy Prelude #1 in Bb. Who could ask for anything more?