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Gifts, Rapt Presence

Music review: Pianist Leonid Levitsky and cellist Bion Tsang elevate a Schubert birthday program to a joyful celebration.


IRVINE — The 3-year-old Newport Beach Recital Series is emerging as one of the musical gems of the county. For this, credit in large part Russian emigre pianist Leonid Levitsky, the series' artistic director and one of its leading participants.

Although he never appeared alone in a Schubert 200th birthday anniversary program Thursday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Levitsky consistently embodied musical taste and sensitivity. His pianism was technically varied and fluent. He also knew when and how to make phrases hover and bloom.

Credit, too, Levitsky's choice of superb cellist Bion Tsang, who was returning as a collaborator on the series from his first appearance there in 1995.

Simply put, Tsang, in his late 20s, is an artist who guarantees the future of our music. His playing is inspiring to hear and inspiring to watch. Period.

In the "Arpeggione" Sonata, which opened the program, Tsang and Levitsky made tender and impassioned musical partners. Things got problematic, however, with the addition, after intermission, of violinist Levon Ambartsumian for the great B-flat Piano Trio, Opus 99, the one that sent Schumann into raptures.

Ambartsumian had already demonstrated a kind of detached efficiency in his playing of the Violin Sonata in A, Opus 162, earlier on the program, and he did nothing here to change that unfortunate impression.


Musically, Ambartsumian resembled an ice skater, while Tsang resembled an oncoming tide. OK, it's a mixed metaphor, but it suggests the differences in the two approaches. Besides, great playing tends to stupefy parts of the critical mind.

Levitsky and his talented 15-year-old student Lindy Blackburn completed the program with the haunting, if episodic, Fantasia in F minor for Piano 4-Hands, Opus 103.

One quibble: In the future, it would be nice to get program notes that say something about the music, not just the musicians.

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