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Michael Lewin, March 2011

Throughout his career pianist Michael Lewin has been fascinated by music inspired by birds and has often included these pieces on his recitals. If I were a bird is a diverse, charming selection that brings together 20 avian pieces from the Baroque to the 20th century. The most impressive and substantial work is a highly effective transcription of three movements from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite made by Guido Agosti, and Lewin plays it with ferocious intensity and it’s a real show-stopper. Lewin is especially compelling in the dazzling virtuoso repertoire—the late Romantic showcases like the character pieces by Josef Hoffmann, Theodor Leschetizky, and Edward MacDowell—and in the really substantive works like the movements from Schumann’s Waldszenen, Granados’ Goyescas, Ravel’s Miroirs, and Messiaen’s early Preludes. The extravagantly ornamented Baroque pieces by Rameau and Daquin, originally for harpsichord, are delightfully quirky. He is less persuasive in lyrical works like Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, which lacks the singing legato line it needs.

As might be expected, because of the subject matter and the fact that many of these are explicitly descriptive pieces, the center of gravity of the majority of them tends to be in the treble range of the keyboard. That becomes problematic only because the sound is on the unforgivingly bright side and is not especially deep. The lack of warmth and resonance, especially in the lower register, is most notable in the more lyrical selections.

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, November 2010

I am delighted by this collection of music inspired by our fine feathered friends. One might wonder whether all that chirping and fluttering would begin to pall after a while, but pianist Michael Lewin has carefully selected and assembled this program, and it hardly outstays its welcome. He appears to be a relatively young man, as pianists go. Nevertheless, Lewin seems to have what some might call “an old soul.” Both the repertoire and the pianist hearken back to the time when music came on 10- or 12-inch shellac platters, and when pianists, no matter how virtuosic they were, treated music-making as an intimate, unhurried activity. If this is corn, I’m having seconds.

There’s quite a stylistic range here, from the French Baroque to works from the century just past. Lewin is sensitive to the differences between Rameau and Messiaen, for example, but he doesn’t overplay his hand, and nothing is exaggerated. A piece such as Liszt’s transcription of Alabieff’s The Nightingale invites the pianist to impress listeners with technique. Lewin aims for something more satisfying, in my opinion, and that is musicianship, the quality that encompasses all other qualities. This pianist or that pianist might have you exclaiming “Wow!” over a particularly dazzling bit of fingerwork. Lewin, on the other hand, leaves you smiling broadly after the CD is done, and for some time after. I have not played the piano in many years. It says something about Lewin’s pianism that hearing him play the Siloti transcription of The Swan inspired me to renew its acquaintance. I swear I’ll learn this transcription while I still have the energy to move my fingers! The only item on this CD that is less than staggering—albeit in an intimate way—is the “Danse infernale” from The Firebird. It feels a little clunky, but this might have as much to do with the transcription as with Lewin’s performance.

This is my first encounter with this pianist, I believe. He has made several discs for Naxos and Centaur, but this appears to be his first mixed recital, and what a charmer it is. Dorian has given it deluxe, book-style packaging and comprehensive booklet notes. (Paintings of many of the birds depicted herein are included too.) The only problem with the packaging is that the envelope provided for the CD is a tight fit, so you might want to protect the CD with an LP-style inner sleeve. It also facilitates removal and replacement.

The engineering is as warm and lovely as the music and the performances. Strike a blow against big, dumb, competition-winning pianism—Lord knows nothing can kill it now anyway—by surrendering yourself to Michael Lewin for 73 minutes. He could have named this CD after a classic Sinatra album: Come Fly With Me.

The WSCL Blog, September 2010

For birders and classical music lovers everywhere—a program of avian works for solo piano by various composers, packaged in a hardcover booklet that contains a brief description of each piece, along with paintings of the appropriate birds—most by John James Audubon...No binoculars required!

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