Trio Levinson's Notes on a Revolution

Trio Levinson  --  son Gary, mother Gina and father Eugene.
Trio Levinson -- son Gary, mother Gina and father Eugene. (The Embassy Series)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The uprising of Oct. 23, 1956, was one of the most tragic days in Hungarian history -- some 2,500 people lost their lives. But it was also one of Hungary's most glorious days: The revolt against Soviet oppression was, in the words of Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi, "the first crack in the wall" that eventually led to the freedom of Eastern Europe.

To commemorate the event's 50th anniversary, the Embassy of Hungary hosted a concert Monday night by Trio Levinson, a Russian-born family who fled the Soviet Union via Hungary some 30 years ago. It's an intriguing idea: Rather than Hungarians, ask Russian musicians to explore the heroism and tragedy of this epochmaking event, with its roots in the universal human yearning for freedom.

But the promise went largely unfulfilled. The links between the music and the uprising seemed tenuous (or even trivial), and with the exception of Bela Bartok's "Romanian Folk Dances," there was no actual Hungarian music to be heard -- and little that seemed weighty enough to mark the occasion.

That said, the playing was fine enough. While the Bartok sounded a bit touch-and-go, Gary Levinson demonstrated his considerable command of the violin in Edvard Grieg's heroic Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45. His playing is purposeful, almost to a fault; one wished he'd loosen his determined grip on the phrasing and let the music breathe a bit more, though he may have been compensating for the rather tentative piano accompaniment by his mother, Gina. But his performance of Maurice Ravel's Gypsy-inspired "Tzigane" was superb -- detailed, colorful and wildly, perfectly extravagant.

With their odd instrumentation of violin, piano and double bass, the trio teamed up only once for the evening, in Rachmaninoff's lyrical "Trio Elegiaque" No. 1 in G Minor. Eugene Levinson, Gary's father, played the cello part on the bass, and while technically it worked, the bass doesn't have the singing tone of the cello, and the result just sounded distorted -- like a cello with a head cold.

-- Stephen Brookes


© 2006 The Washington Post Company