About this Recording
9.70195 - LÉVY, F.E.: Cello Sonatas (Complete) (Ballantyne, Hiroko Sasaki)

Frank Ezra Lévy (b. 1930)
Complete Sonatas for Cello and Piano


Frank Ezra Lévy was born in Paris, France, son of the legendary Swiss pianist and composer, Ernst Lévy, and began his musical education after emigrating in 1939 to the United States, where he studied the cello privately and then theory and composition with Hugo Kauder. He attended the Juilliard School, studying cello with Leonard Rose and graduating in 1951 with a BS degree, and studied musicology at the University of Chicago, where he received his MA in 1954. While in Chicago he also continued his cello studies, this time with Janos Starker. He has spent his lifetime composing, while earning his living as a professional cellist. His 177 published works include eight symphonies, eleven string quartets and many other orchestral, vocal and chamber works.

Four of Lévy’s orchestral works, including his Second Cello Concerto, recorded in September 2004, by the Irish National Orchestra for Naxos Records, were released on 13 December 2005, on the American Masters series. Among his commissions (for the Duo Fresco) is a Duo Concertante for Viola and Guitar, which has been performed frequently by this group, a Trio for Flute, Clarinet and Piano commissioned by the Palisades Virtuosi, as well as a duo, Mythic Transformations, for viola and clarinet, and two Trios for Clarinet, Viola and Piano for the Halcyon Trio. Among some other of his more recent works are a cantata, Six Dreams and a Vision, on poems by Ruth Pitter, a third Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, Five Songs on poems by WB Yeats, a Fantasy Concertante for Clarinet, Viola and Double Choir, called To Peace with Love, Four Songs on poems by Edgar Allan Poe, for voice and guitar, a Concerto for Tenor Saxophone, Guitar and String Orchestra, Six Haiku for our time, for soprano, clarinet, guitar, percussion, viola, bass and piano, an Eighth Symphony, Eleventh String Quartet and Second Violin Concerto.

Lévy served as the first composer-in-residence for the Concert Artist Program at Kean University in Union, NJ for the 2008–2009 season. Two new works were commissioned by the University, a String Quintet with Double-bass and a Song Cycle for Soprano and Nine Instrumentalists, originally to commemorate the inauguration of Kean’s new state of the art chamber music hall, which was to open in the fall of 2009, but whose opening was postponed to 2010. Among other recent premières was the 6 March 2011, performance of Night Keeps its Promise, for guitar, baritone solo and chorus, written for and performed by Mark Shapiro and Cantori NY at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Manhattan.

As the cello has been Lévy’s almost sole means of livelihood for so many years, one could imagine that it also dominated his work as a composer. This has by no means been the case. He has certainly written many works for the instrument but these are only a small part of his total output. Once finding his own voice, composing became as natural to him (or perhaps even more so) than writing letters. More than just a means of self-expression, music has been, for him, a constant process of discovery; of monitoring the growth of musical ideas within prescribed perimeters. He has never totally shaken off, nor has he tried to, the influence of his early teacher Hugo Kauder or that of his father, Ernst Lévy. From Kauder he has integrated the use of doublings in fourth and fifth as well as his characteristic muted cadence, flatted sixth in fifth to tonic, into his own style. From Ernst Lévy, he has inherited his rhythmic flexibility and modal sensitivity. While the resulting style, he points out, is far removed from these models, it still reflects a strong belief in the role of tonality as a given in the realm of music. Just as gravitational force can vary so, too, can the forces of tonality through devices that mute the pull of harmonic forces, focusing instead on the horizontal movement of individual voices, on rhythmic patterns and on the use of chord clusters to create the feeling of horizontal movement without traveling on the moving stairway of harmonic progressions.

The five sonatas recorded here, by Scott Ballantyne and Hiroko Sasaki, span a period of 32 years, the last having been written especially for this recording. Although each of the five sonatas in this set have a character of their own, they all share certain common features. While by no means atonal, they are, to a greater or lesser degree, tonally ambivalent, part of their construct being the search for a tonal center. This is a feature that intensifies their expressive character and comprises an important part of their musical vocabulary. There is also thematic correlation between the various themes and motives within these works, contributing to their cohesiveness. The form of the individual movements in each of the sonatas, however, is generally quite simple, clear, and transparent.

Based on notes by the composer

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