“Rare is the virtuosic blend of talent and temperament,” reads the opening statement on the booklet accompanying the newly released CD, The Litwin-Markiw Duo, a recently formed musical collaboration of coloratura soprano Jennifer Litwin and pianist Victor Markiw. Rarer still is the taste and intelligence that went into the very selection of songs recorded on their first album. This newly recorded collection is an extraordinary event, and promises to be one of the most popular classical albums of the new decade.
From the very first sound of the album, an arpeggiated chord in the first song (Obradors‘ “La Mi Sola Laureola“), pianist Victor Markiw assures us of transcendent command and a compassionate, generous order with felicity, grandeur, and wealth for all. From Markiw’s hands, the mere arpeggiated chord is a dramatic melody. What follows from the piano is every whit as vocal as the soprano with whom Markiw shares the music. Markiw is a true and compelling artist.
Litwin’s voice is pure silver so polished that she seems to reflect the very soul of each different composer she sings. Her voice embodies a refulgence of scintillating variety. Completely liquid, lavishing, and lyrical beyond description, Litwin is a living ambassador of every composer’s dream.
An Elysian elegance transpires as the two poets recite. The musical intimacy is seemingly miraculous, so that when the album is finished, one immediately yearns for more. This is a most unusual effect. Indeed, the musicians make music of their own—something beyond the score. It is virtually necromantic. Such is the rhapsodic nature of this new album.
Pianist Victor Markiw and soprano Jennifer Litwin.
There is significant artistry even in the selection and ordered arrangement of the art songs on the album. We begin with Fernando Obradors, the Spanish poet, conductor, and composer. His songs are all irresistible, and performed with an enscorcelling power. They are each innocent enchantments, yet consciously convincing. They are followed by moments of Germanic and Italian fantasy, from another time, from another world long passed: Franz Schubert’s “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock) and Franz Liszt’s “Pace non trovo” (I Find No Peace). The Liszt song, with lyrics from a sonnet of Petrarca, is memorably moving. In the one Schubert song, we have the added luxury of clarinetist Gregory Lunin.
Next we hear the swooning bewilderments of Claude Debussy, and four completely unique musical caricatures, ending with “The Apparition,” which is perhaps the most artistic event on the album. Lest we be forever charmed, however, these songs are followed by the heart-bleeding strains of Rachmaninoff. There are no words to sufficiently describe the subliminal confessionals of Rachmaninoff. After such Stygian murmurings, such ponderous drones, one can only gaze plaintively upward.
And then something truly magical happens. After this profound journey into the wilderness of human experience, we hear Aaron Copland’s arrangement of the old Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” which feels heavenly. This song, along with two other Copland songs, cleanses the soul’s palate for the finale dessert, Bernstein’s “Glitter and Be Gay,” from Candide. Bernstein never did employ any but a mundane mode, and the essentially “popular” musical event was his real achievement. Bernstein is, simply, forever pop. An appropriate ending for such an album, indeed, The Litwin-Markiw Duo will surely become thus popular, certainly among those artistically inclined.
Of all the works, the Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” is the most curious. Litwin’s timbre is so varied, and even unexpected, that the work sounds completely improvised. Of course, this was no doubt the intent of the composer. Litwin’s ever-changing tone makes this work especially captious. Markiw’s accompaniment is equally spontaneous. Their rapport is matchless.
Soprano, Jennifer Litwin.
Ms. Litwin earned her Bachelor of Music at the Oberlin Conservatory, and her Masters at Yale University School of Music. She debuted with the Sarasota Opera as Olympia, in Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman. She is a professional pedagogue, as well as a successful Wall Street persona. Markiw holds a Bachelor of Music from the Hartt School, a Master of Fine Arts from the State University of New York at Purchase, and a Doctorate from the University of Connecticut. He teaches at the University of New Haven, and will publish his first scholarly work through Edwin Mellen this year, Myroslav Skoryk: Life and Solo Piano Works.
For the artistic audience, the album is pure luxury. For young musicians, it should be required listening. It is a musical reference library, with a treasure of lessons. This collection will actually create finer ears in sincere students. It is a sparkling work, in all respects.