"Not only... all the traditional skills of speed, articulation, clarity, but... a wonderful sensitivity to tone and phrase...turn[s] notes into something that lives and breathes. [The] music is alive... There is no getting away from this cleanness and clarity - this freshness - it is like standing on the top of a mountain." - Beryl Ladd, pianist/teacher
"...one of those rare musicians who performed at the highest professional level, without ever losing sight of the fact that the music was more important than she or her ego was. She always listened with extraordinary care, whether the performer was a student, a colleague, a concert artist - or herself. Her essential modesty and unwavering standards never allowed her to be over-confident or complacent. She sought and achieved ever-increasing mastery, not for her own glory, but because that was what the music deserved!" - Audrey Schneider, pianist
"...an accomplished pianist. Her training had been top notch and her performance was clean and intelligent...excellent qualities in her interpretation... She worked extremely hard on a difficult program...a real knuckle-buster...to great success... She was reluctant to extol her virtues...[but] had nothing to be modest about... The good really died young in her case and I shall always miss her." - Morton Estrin, pianist
"...intelligent and vibrant... The combined strength of her intellectual and expressive abilities was always evident... Her delight at each new insight and enthusiasm... was an inspiration to me." - Blanche Abram, pianist (American Chamber Ensemble)
"...a superb musician." - Damon Shulman, songwriter/performer
"...a remarkably talented musician... a clarity and depth like that of fine wine... Her soul shined through her fingertips, and there was a lot of beauty in everything she played, whether it was solo music, accompaniment, or chamber music." - Carol Block Whited
"...one of the most expressive and technically adept pianists I have ever listened to. Pure beauty! I really love the playing, and especially love the feel of Kurka's Sonata. Thanks for sharing this work with the world!" - AudioBrian1
Produced and remixed for compact disc by Adam Robert Levin
Mastered by Jay Mark
THE PERFORMANCES on this CD, digitally remastered from the original reel-to-reel recordings, are from Rhoda Pinsley Levin's solo recital tour of 1963 and subsequent repertoire. She performed these and other pieces at numerous recitals in New York and Massachusetts between January 1963 and October 1970. During that time, she expanded her usual repertoire from the Baroque and Classical periods by taking on the challenge of Romantic and contemporary works in this collection. This occurred during what turned out to be the last seven years of her life, tragically cut short by cancer at the age of forty-one.
Scarlatti and Beethoven were her home turf, even when she'd suspended piano study and concertizing for a Masters in Music Education at Columbia and a more pragmatic career as a teacher of choral music and piano. That enduring bond to Scarlatti and Beethoven is evident in her 1963 recital's opener of three SONATAS BY SCARLATTI and BEETHOVEN'S VARIATIONS OP. 34. By that time, she'd resumed piano study with Morton Estrin after a ten-year hiatus. "She was reluctant to extol her virtues...[but] had nothing to be modest about," remembers Estrin. "Her performance was clean and intelligent...excellent qualities in her interpretation."
SCHUBERT'S FANTASY IN C MAJOR is "a real knuckle-buster," as Estrin describes it, one that Mrs. Levin mastered "to great success." This powerful performance served as a fitting closing for the first half of her program during her 1963 recital tour. (It's no wonder her "knuckles" might have needed a rest!)
For her first performance of a modern work, Mrs. Levin chose one by a friend, Robert Kurka. Kurka had died of leukemia six years earlier at the age of thirty-five. Mrs. Levin's husband Harvey had introduced Kurka to his wife (music educator May Kurka) while all three were earning their Masters at Columbia. His most celebrated work was the opera "The Good Soldier Schweik", completed during the later stages of his illness and produced after his death.
In April 1963, her performance of KURKA'S SONATA OP. 20 NO. 1 was received enthusiastically by an audience of over 200 concertgoers. The Westbury Times reported that "a highlight of the concert was the presentation of flowers to her by the daughter of composer Robert Kurka..."
Having opened the second half of her program with that departure into modern music, Mrs. Levin returned to more familiar musical ground with works by CHOPIN and Liszt. Following her tumultuous finale of LISZT'S HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY NO. 12, she performed encores by PARADIES and BRAHMS.
In 1966, Mrs. Levin developed a new program of works, which she performed for her recital tour that year. It consisted of the last five pieces in this CD collection (along with her revival of Brahms' Intermezzo Op. 119 No. 3.) The year before, we had moved to a larger house with a larger studio, where she continued her piano teaching and resumed her performance work under Vivian Rivkin. She drew from her 1966 and 1963 programs for various performances over the next four years. Her last performance was in October 1970, four months before her death. Pianist Blanche Abram, who coached her during the last three years of her life, remembers "the combined strength of her intellectual and expressive abilities always evident" and "her delight at each new insight... It was an inspiration to me."
BACH'S JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING, which opened Mrs. Levin's 1966 program, might seem an unlikely theme or message to be chosen by a Jewish solo musician. Yet, it was completely in character with Mrs. Levin to gravitate towards a piece despite any social or religious connotation.
In addition to that program's regular repertoire of BACH, CHOPIN and BRAHMS, she embarked on another modern work, GIAN-CARLO MENOTTI'S RICERCARE AND TOCCATA, on a theme from "The Old Maid and the Thief". Menotti had long been a favorite composer of hers. In the early 1950s, not long after its world premiere on television, she had selected, directed and performed piano on Menotti's Christmas opera "Amahl and The Night Visitors" for a public school production -- a challenging project for youngsters that received extensive coverage and praise in the local press. I was raised on her record album of that opera. She also took me to a New York City performance of Menotti's 1968 opera "The Globolinks".
Given her unusual affinity for Menotti despite a general discomfort with modern music, it seems apropos that she chose one of his pieces and closed out her career as a pianist with it (just as it closes this CD collection.) "She told me three years ago she was living on borrowed time," said Edward N. Beck, manager of the Hofstra University sponsored Pro Arte Symphony Orchestra, shortly after her death in February 1971. "But she just went on about her business and there was no complaining from her about it."
Mrs. Levin was honored by Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Harvard University, and Hofstra University, which includes the Rhoda Pinsley Levin Endowed Award for Excellence in Musical Performance. Her achievements were featured in numerous newspaper articles and touted by composers Gabriel Fontrier and Elie Siegmeister. Still, as a pianist, she was a paradox. She was exceptionally talented, highly trained, technically proficient and musically sensitive. Her playing didn't merely impress listeners but deeply moved them as well. Yet, her humility prevented her from ever being content in the role of solo concert pianist. Her piano work had begun with lessons at the age of four, and seen her through New York City's High School of Music and Art, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the national music honor society Pi Kappa Lambda, national touring and radio work as pianist in the Oberlin Woodwind Ensemble, and as accompanist in a slew of other capacities over the years. But she didn't live long enough to further develop her concertizing.
- Adam Robert Levin
"...a very talented fine person... we affectionately called her 'fingers Pinsley' because of her fine technical prowess at the piano... She will always remain in my memory." - George Waln, clarinetist (Dir., Oberlin Woodwind Ensemble)
"...a brave, bright song we were privileged to hear and whose memory we will never forget... one of the truly precious people who brighten the lives of those who know her." - Naomi Drucker, clarinetist (American Chamber Ensemble)
"...a fine pianist, a student of distinguished international figures." - Gabriel Fontrier, composer
"...genuine, lovely, sensitive..." - Elie Siegmeister, composer
"...vibrant, talented, and musically sensitive." - Joseph Hungate, pianist/teacher