“I fell in love with this CD before hearing a single note of its intriguing music! Birds inspire this beautifully packaged recording, replete with lovely Audubon artwork, a thoughtful essay, and Lewin’s entertaining liner notes. The impressive package produced high expectations, and I was not disappointed. The 22 selections range from the familiar Daquin’s “Cuckoo” and Schumann’s “Prophet Bird” to the obscure “Water-Wagtail” of Cyril Scott and “Little Wood-Bird” by Adolph Jensen. Movements from Stravinsky”s “Firebird Suite” (transcribed by Guido Agosti) and a foot-tapping, virtuosic “Turkey in the Straw” (arranged by Godowsky’s student David Guion”), were enjoyable discoveries for this listener. Lewin’s impressive, engaging performances belie the technical challenges found within much of this repertoire. This CD is satisfying not only for its superb playing, but for the momentary suspension of worldly care that a little time with the birds can bring.”
- Clavier Companion Magazine (Jan/Feb, 2011)
"I am delighted by this collection of music inspired by our fine feathered friends. One might wonder whether all that chirping and fluttering would begin to pall after a while, but pianist Lewin has carefully selected and assembled this program, and it hardly outstays its welcome. He appears to be a relatively young man, as pianists go. Nevertheless, Lewin seems to have what some might call “an old soul.” Both the repertory and the pianist hearken back to the time when music came on 10- or 12-inch shellac platters, and when pianists, no matter how virtuosic they were, treated music-making as an intimate, unhurried activity. If this is corn, I'm having seconds.
There's quite a stylistic range here, from the French Baroque to works from the century just past. Lewin is sensitive to the differences between Rameau and Messiaen, for example, but he doesn't overplay his hand, and nothing is exaggerated. A piece such as Liszt's transcription of Alabieff's The Nightingale invites the pianist to impress listeners with technique. Lewin aims for something more satisfying, in my opinion, and that is musicianship, the quality that encompasses all other qualities. This pianist or that pianist might have you exclaiming “Wow!” over a particularly dazzling bit of fingerwork. Lewin, on the other hand, leaves you smiling broadly after the CD is done, and for some time after. I have not played the piano in many years. It says something about Lewin's pianism that hearing him play the Siloti transcription of The Swan inspired me to renew its acquaintance. I swear I'll learn this transcription while I still have the energy to move my fingers! The only item on this CD that is less than staggering—albeit in an intimate way—is the “Danse infernale” from The Firebird. It feels a little clunky, but this might have as much to do with the transcription as with Lewin's performance.
This is my first encounter with this pianist, I believe. He has made several discs for Naxos and Centaur, but this appears to be his first mixed recital, and what a charmer it is. Dorian has given it deluxe, book-style packaging and comprehensive booklet notes. (Paintings of many of the birds depicted herein are included too.) The only problem with the packaging is that the envelope provided for the CD is a tight fit, so you might want to protect the CD with an LP-style inner sleeve. It also facilitates removal and replacement.
The engineering is as warm and lovely as the music and the performances. Strike a blow against big, dumb, competition-winning pianism—Lord knows nothing can kill it now anyway—by surrendering yourself to Michael Lewin for 73 minutes. He could have named this CD after a classic Sinatra album: Come Fly With Me."
- Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare Magazine (July, 2010)
"As the recording industry grapples with the reluctance of music lovers to pony up for tunes, one obvious remedy is the production of swanky packaging. And pianist Michael Lewin’s first release with the Dorian Sono Luminus label rewards paying customers with a beauty of an album. Bound as a miniature hardcover book, If I Were a Bird: A Piano Aviary brims with paintings by John J. Audubon as well as the performer’s own program notes for each of these 20 ambrosial vignettes.
The New York native’s adroit voicing and tender touch give these avian-inspired shorts an autumnal quality... At the midpoint of the album, the blackbird of Maurice Ravel’s “Sad Birds” sings forlornly through the emotional centerpiece—arguably Lewin at his most evocative. The Boston Conservatory professor brings an expansiveness to the ostinato blackbird call that leaves the listener in a cloud of melancholy...Lewin’s dexterous keyboard work and affection for this repertoire (not to mention gorgeous packaging) is something fans of the solo piano genre and ornithologists alike will gobble up."
- Doyle Armbrust, Chicago Time Out (May, 2010)
"During this springtime of birdsong, pianist Michael Lewin’s If I Were a Bird is a perfect companion: 23 short classical pieces arranged around the theme of birds and birdsong. Rameau, Ravel, Messiaen, Granados, Grieg, Schumann, and Stravinsky are here, but so are lesser-known composers like Adolf Jensen, Theodor Leschetizky, Cyril Scott, and Louis-Claude Daquin. The CD comes in a beautifully designed mini-book with notes and illustrations. A perfect gift for piano and bird lovers alike."
- Music News: www.politics-prose.com (May 2010, Washington DC)
"Olivier Messiaen once opined that birds were probably the greatest musicians to inhabit our planet, and they have indeed been inspiring many a composer and musician for centuries. With this disc, Michael Lewin pays homage to our feathered muses with a fascinating and entertaining mixture of works for solo piano.
Music by a rich array of composers is found here, and the diversity works brilliantly. There are whimsical offerings by Hoffman, MacDowell and Jensen; touches of delicate melancholy by Grieg, Granados and Schumann; and Rameau and Daquin are tastefully played on a Steinway concert grand. Transcriptions of Glinka, Saint-Saëns, Alabieff and Stravinsky are included, of which the Danse infernale from Firebird is most grand; and Messiaen himself is exquisitely represented by The Dove, written when he was twenty. Lewin also knocks off an enthusiastic rendition of the Joplinesque Turkey in the Straw and it fits the program to perfection.
The pacing of this ‘piano aviary’ is delightful and Lewin plays to dazzling and touchingly expressive effect. Highlights for me are the Messiaen and Schumann, and his renditions of Ravel’s Sad Birds and Cyril Scott’s Water Wagtail, but I will listen to this entire disc repeatedly with great pleasure. Kudos also to the designer of the booklet in which this CD is housed – the design with its rich colours and elegant illustrations is as impressive as the music within."
- Whole Note Magazine (May 27, 2010, Toronto)
"Lewin plays each of these 22 pieces with charm and delight. Only one who despises our feathered friends might find the contents less than pleasing. Collectors will want this for the many unusual and rarely heard items."
- American Record Guide (July/August, 2010)
1. The Gathering of the Birds-Jean-Philippe Rameau
2. Woodbird's Delight-Josef Hofmann
3. The White Peacock, from "Roman Sketches"-Charles Tomlinson Griffies
4. To a Humming Bird-Edward MacDowell
5. The Dove, from "Preludes"-Oliver Messaien
6. Little Bird, from "Lyric Pieces"-Edvard Grieg
7. The Maiden and The Nightingale from "Goyescas"-Enrique Granados
8. Little Wood-Bird-Adolf Jensen
9. The Two Larks-Theodor Leschetizky
10. Sad Birds, from "Miroirs"-Maurice Ravel
11. The Lark-Mikhail Glinka/transcribed by Mili Balakirev
12. The Prophet Bird, from "Waldscenen"-Robert Schumann
13. Water-Wagtail-Cyril Scott
14. The Cuckoo-Louis-Claude Daquin
15. The Swan, from "Carnival of the Animals"-Camille Saint Saens/transcrived by Alexander Siloti
16. The Nightingale-Alexander Alabieff/transcribed by Franz Liszt
17. Turkey in the Straw-David W. Guion
18. If I Were a Bird-Adolf Henselt
19. Chinese Nightingale, from "Alt-China (Old China) Suite"-Walter Niemann
Firebird Suite-Igor Stravinsky/transcribed by Guido Agosti
20. Danse infernale de roi Kastchei