Windows by Bruce Levingston
On January 26, 2018, Sono Luminus released Windows [DSL 92137], the sixth album on the label featuring celebrated pianist, author, and founder of Premiere Commission, Inc., Bruce Levingston. Known for his nuanced interpretations and creative programming, Levingston's focus for this recording is on works which, he writes, "reflect a myriad of overlapping artistic influences and feature composers who have been inspired by multiple art forms." The album includes two works by Robert Schumann, Kinderszenen, Op. 15; and Arabeske, Op. 18, which are framed by two Premiere Commissions: The Shadow of the Blackbird (2011) by composer David Bruce, and James Matheson's Windows (2015), for which the album was titled.
The album opens with British composer David Bruce's two-movement work The Shadow of the Blackbird, which is inspired both by the music of Robert Schumann, and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. The composer writes, "For me, Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is one of the most moving meditations on life's mystery; moving partly because it circles around the mystery without trying to explain it." After discussions with the pianist about the commission, the composer became inspired by Levingston's recording of Schumann's Kreisleriana, and used the first few notes of the work as a starting point for his virtuosic composition. The Shadow of the Blackbird, like the Schumann work on which it is loosely based, has "something of a fantasia quality" and gently plays with the listener's perception of time and space.
The Bruce work is followed by two of Robert Schumann's most enduring and beloved compositions, Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838) and his Arabeske, Op. 18 (1839). For Levingston, the Schumann was an immediate choice for this album: "Schumann was deeply influenced by poetry and literature. His intimate Kinderszenen, a series of distilled little jewels that offer fleeting glimpses of childhood, is paired with the urbane, elegant Arabeske." While both works were composed within a year of each other, the pianist notes, "on a certain level, this work [Arabeske] is the emotional opposite of Kinderszenen. Its refined outer grace veils an undercurrent of longing and bittersweet complexity that is very much the domain of the adult world."
Rounding out the recording is the album's title work, Windows, by American composer James Matheson. The suite is comprised of five movements which depict the stained glass windows of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. The work was commissioned in 2015 by Premiere Commission, Inc., to celebrate the centennial of the Union Church of Pocantico Hills in New York.
The pianist writes, "This deeply touching, epic cycle of music captures the intimate, often heartrending, visions of Chagall as well as the powerful simplicity of Matisse's modern design which utilizes the striking collage forms he employed in his final years. Matheson's work also reflects the influence of Olivier Messiaen's own theologically-inspired music. Like the French master, Matheson utilizes large-scale blocks of harmonies with organ-like sonorities to support and shift the music's kaleidoscopic planes of color and set into relief the work's piercing motifs and intricate patterns. The universal themes of love and sacrifice (Jeremiah and Isaiah), loss and altruism (Crucifixion and The Good Samaritan) and the jubilant celebration of life and nature (The Rose) are memorably portrayed in this poignant tribute to the human spirit."