Tuesday 1 August 2023

Personal choice: accordion player Martynas Levickis' solo recital disc, Autograph

Autograph: Martynas Levickis, Bach, Glass, Franck Angelis, Milosz Magin; Martynas Levickis; Accentus Music
Autograph: Martynas Levickis, Bach, Glass, Franck Angelis, Milosz Magin; Martynas Levickis; Accentus Music

The Lithuanian accordion virtuoso chooses an eclectic and highly personal programme for his recital disc from surprisingly joyful Bach to Levickis' own highly contemporary folk song arrangements

Autograph on Accentus Music is a solo album from accordion player Martynas Levickis and the collection of music is a personal one, featuring favourites from his repertoire along with some of his own music. There is Bach's French Suite No. 5, four of Philip Glass' Etudes, plus two works specifically for the accordion, Franck Angelis' Impasse and Milosz Magin's Nostalgie du Pays along with Levickis' arrangements of Lithuanian folk songs.

Martynas Levickis has always included arrangements of Lithuanian folk songs in his repertoire, but on this disc he plays five in new arrangements for accordion and string ensemble, played here by eight members of his own ensemble, the Lithuanian chamber group Mikroorkestra. The results are way beyond simple folk-arrangements and we get five substantial works for accordion and strings (one is over seven minutes long). The sound world moves a long way from pure folk music Levickis is unashamed of borrowing, so there a moments that sound Piazzolla-esque. This is an appealing suite, elegantly played, and the strings are active participants in the music rather than simply providing support for the solo spot. Very much music for accordion with strings, this deserves a life beyond the disc.

The next work could not be more different, Bach's French Suite No. 5. In an article in the CD booklet, Levickis says that he is playing the Bach very much as it is written in the score, and he chose this work because he went looking 'for a joyful Bach'. So we have an elegant Allemande, a delightfully perky Courante, a slow and melancholy Sarabande, a perky Gavotte, a fast and light Bourree, an intriguing Loure and a lively Gigue to finish. In the slower movements, like the Sarabande and the Loure, the accordion's sustaining abilities rather changes the texture from the original harpsichord more than in the faster, articulated movements, and perhaps the Loure sounds the furthest from the original, but there is no doubting the success, the élan and, yes, the joy of this transcription.

What comes next are somewhat more radical transcriptions, four of Philip Glass' Etudes, works that Glass began in the 1990s and continued to write for the next 20 years. Etude No. 2 moves from gentle undulations to strong repeated patterns, the ability of the accordion to hold strong sustained notes under the arpeggios giving quite a particular texture at times. Etude No. 3 is faster and more exciting, the very sound of the instrument contributing to the material, whereas Etude No. 5 feels in a different world as Glass spaces his material out, and though it gains in complexity the overall thoughtful feel stays. Etude No. 6 is the fastest and most exciting of the group, an is a virtuoso tour de force. 

In these transcriptions, the music has moved further away from the original, but like the best transcriptions, Levickis makes us think of the music in the new context rather than the old. His technique is dazzling without every making itself felt as the end point of the performance, it is always in the service of the music. Sometimes, the sheer sound of the instrument becomes part of the music in the way that the smooth surface of the music does not when played on the piano, but that is part of the joy of transcription.

Franck Angelis is a French composer and accordion player and his 2004 work, Impasse has become part of the classic accordion repertoire. In four movements, the first is fast and exciting with a few Piazzolla moments, but underpinned by repeated motifs which verge on Minimalist. The slow movement is marked Andante doloroso; this might be nominally slow, but it begins with fragments of melody over repeated chords which give a real sense of excitement that builds and dies away. The Adagio sostenuto is the real dark heart of the work, and it is here that we can perhaps detect the influence that the death of Angelis' nephew had on the writing of the piece. We end with a Vivace movement that is fast, exciting and dazzling.

The final work on the disc is Nostalgie du Pays by the Polish composer Milosz Magin. A short yet haunting work that brings a fine recital to a close.

Levickis is clearly a gifted player and on this disc he sets himself a variety of challenges, creating a series of contrasting textures and themes. We can enjoy the programme for the wonderful feel that Levickis has for his instrument, but we can also simply sit back and listen.

Martynas Levickis (born 1990) - Five Lithuanian Folk Songs
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), arr. Martynas Levickis - French Suite No. 5, BWV 810
Philip Glass (born 1937), arr. Martynas Levickis - Etudes No. 2, 3, 5 and 6
Franck Angelis  - Impasse
Milosz Magin (1929-1999) - Nostalgie du Pays
Martynas Levickis (accordion)
Recorded November 2022 at Studio Residence Paliesius, Lithuania
ACCENTUS MUSIC ACC206060 1CD [76:45]

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