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David R Dunsmore
MusicWeb International, September 2006

I have to confess to not having heard of Frank Levy until I was sent this CD. From the beginning I’ve found listening to this well filled disc an enjoyable experience. Striking cover picture too "Opening" by Ulrich Osterlob who is a new name to me. A Summer Overture begins proceedings and unlike my colleague David Blomenberg it did remind me a bit of Copland’s Rodeo but not overtly so. It’s based on the mediaeval song much loved by madrigal singers and choirs Sumer is icumen in, and this has lead me to getting "Sumer is Icumen in" Medieval English Songs Hilliard Ensemble - Paul Hillier Harmonia Mundi HMC 1154 which is presently on my " to listen to" pile! Expect a review some time before next summer – I hope! The Overture is a fun melodic piece and is very well played. Returning to this disc after a gap I was struck by the sound of orchestra and melodic invention. I think it would make a good overture at "The Last Night of the Proms". Tremendous percussion making cheerful noise bring the piece to a lively climax. A great start to the disc and a good sampler!

Cello Concerto No. 2 commences with a haunting melody on the cello and is almost Sibelian before the small orchestra come in. Scott Ballantyne plays with real emotion and the orchestra responds. The great thing is that Levy produces melody and excitement. Nothing overstays its welcome so that it makes for a good listen. There’s an elegiac quality to the slow movement which balances the plaintive cello with woodwinds. I liked this piece and will be happy to return.

Rondo Tarantella is recently composed and is quite disturbing and restless compared to what has gone before. I’m grateful to learn that it has been used in Levy’s opera Mother’s Day as it gave me some background to what is going on. I found it slightly less accessible than the first two pieces but I’m sure repeated listening will pay dividends. I really must praise Naxos here because not only do they produce first class new music for around a £5.99 but also they give us great notes and a web-site from which to learn more. Both the notes and site are first class and are much easier than those of many other companies: Sony, DG and most of all EMI please take note! They even give us the web-site for the artist on the cover!

Symphony No. 3 has two movements. The Lento starts with a haunting melody before developing into variations. I found it intriguing and as with all the music on this disc I was struck by Levy’s melodic invention. He clearly understands the orchestra. Compared to many modern pieces - Sir Harrison Birtwistle et al - I didn’t wonder where the tune was or think I’d have to listen to it twenty times to get what’s going on. I do feel that it would be great to hear live and think that some people who find modern classical music beyond them would warm to this. The other thing is that there are no "long hours" here as there’s always something developing. The Symphony’s second movement Vivace brings this very enjoyable selection to a conclusion. Here again I’m impressed by mood swings – it’s not all brightness – there are shadows in the generally upbeat finale.

Congratulations to Frank Levy, Naxos, the splendid RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and Takuo Yuasa, not forgetting the impressive Scott Ballantyne. More please!

Fanfare, May 2006

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David Blomenberg
MusicWeb International, April 2006

Not much of Frank Ezra Levy’s musical output has been committed to disc — in looking at what is currently available on various web sites, I have found a cello concerto (his first) and his fourth symphony. Here, then, is a special contribution towards the wider distribution of this composer’s music. A Summer Overture manages to sound like an American overture without also sounding like Copland or Bernstein, which, by other examples out there, is no mean feat. It has moments both exciting and sinister. The work is based on the tune "Sumer is icumen in," which is reduced to fragments that are treated contrapuntally. This is an easily accessible piece that will appeal both to early music enthusiasts as well as to those that enjoy dynamic, extrovert music.

The Second Cello Concerto, a work of 2002 performed by its dedicatee, begins on the same note A Summer Overture returned to so insistently in its coda. In his notes, the composer refers to a process of "kaleidoscopic variation" as the basis for this composition. Indeed, the movements focus on broad variations that change guise. The first movement ends seemingly in mid-sentence, with the contrasting narrative of the second movement as a sudden change of heart. Reminiscent of Shostakovich, this movement has the solo instrument and orchestral forces trading the narrative line and, rather often, in conflict with each other for dominance. The Allegro is a manic, driving force in the orchestra, with the solo instrument acting almost as a retarding agent, tempering the outbursts of the collected ensemble. Though Shostakovich comes to mind, this is a work that has none of the mind-spinning Shostakovich cadenzas; instead it seems to focus on pitting the orchestra against the solo instrument.

Rondo Tarantella of 2003 begins ominously with low winds, then transfers its unease, its syncopated jig-like theme, to the strings and upper woodwinds. This work has been incorporated into the opera Mother’s Day as the finale to Act 2, where, in an effort to gain entry to a women’s political movement, the President’s husband disguises himself as a woman to infiltrate a demonstration. It is a piece of tension and anticipation.

The Third Symphony of 1977 is a much earlier work than the others presented here. It is a weightier example of the basic method employed by Levy, which consists of an initial basic narration of a theme from which variations arise. Some of the mutations are more radical than others before the original statement returns. Odd elements and figures at the end foreshadow the second movement, which continues from the first without a break; a steady building of the material that has been presented. With a restrained gong blow, the movement is driven back to a taut quiet section before the ensemble takes courage behind the horn’s restatement. From there, the orchestral forces gather finally to a military force that ends abruptly with a flurry of woodwinds. The side-drum motif that heralds this last movement and takes us through to the end is a recurrence of the same figure that reminds one of Shostakovich in the cello concerto.

The sound quality of this disc fits in well with the overall quality of the Naxos releases. In the cello concerto, the solo instrument is warmly presented, well-balanced with the orchestra, and exceedingly well-played by Ballantyne.

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