Raffi Besalyan The Sound of Black & White Sono Luminus 92249—72 minutes
An Armenian-born pianist paying tribute to Aram Khachaturian, George Gershwin from his adopted country, the United States, and Oscar Levant, pianist and Hollywood superstar. He is currently Professor of Piano at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The title can be attributed either to the color of the piano keys, or to the jazz influences in most of the music. The one piece that will stand out for collectors is Levant’s three-movement Sonatina completed in 1932; this is its world premiere recording. It’s a jazzy piece, and very much a product of its age. After writing just the first movement Levant performed it at an event attended by Aaron Copland, who encouraged him to complete it. The finished piece was premiered by the pianist at the Yaddo American Music Festival at Saratoga Springs, New York. It’s a gem of a discovery, with an impertinent, brash, down-and-dirty feel. At 11 minutes it adds substantially to Levant’s meager list of compositions. Thrill also to the iconic photograph of Levant, complete with cigarette dangling from his mouth and a dazed expression from overmedication. Also included are Levant’s arrangements of Khachaturian’s `Sabre Dance’ and `Lullaby’, both from the ballet Gayane. It is good to have Khachaturian’s own brief Sonatina, a characteristic piece of mild interest. A few of the composer’s other potboilers are present, all played, of course, with molto affection. From Gershwin we have the piano solo version of Rhapsody in Blue, the three Preludes, and four of Earl Wild’s 7 Etudes based on Gershwin songs. The Rhapsody is highly stylized, but never beyond the bounds of good taste. Unless you must have everything played perfectly straight, you are probably going to enjoy this swinging Gershwin romp—especially in the convincing hands of Raffi Besalyan. The Preludes are also a delight, and the Wild arrangements about as good as it gets. Excellent sound and informative notes make this a most attractive proposition, and the Levant will clinch it for most of us who still remember.
American Record Guide