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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Levit's Beethoven last sonatas - sure-footed musicality abounds in a wonderful debut album., 4 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas (Audio CD)
At barely 26, Igor Levit may be a trival too young to consider tackling the highest peaks of the piano repertoire, Beethoven's last piano sonatas. But this young man is, if nothing else, a great pianist in a surprisingly fast making. This new album would well be evidence that the 21st century's first piano giant has set foot on stage eventually.

While interpretively one may not entirely agree with Levit's decisions, there is simply no doubt that he has made these 5 late Beethoven sonatas sound more beautiful than many other big names with his striking evenness of touch. The marvel of Levit is that even in the most technically demanding passages in Op 106, or the variations of the concluding movement of Op 111, his playing never loses poise and purity of touch, even if one may criticise that Levit's beautifies the "Hammerklavier' too much, and underplays some of the work's most daring and ferocity elements.

Beethoven's final three piano sonatas are considered to be some of the most profoundly philosophical music. His last duo sonatas for piano and violin, and piano and cello, and the late quartets are all hewn from the same materials. This is music which comes from a composer who has achieved a state of acceptance in life, but not resignation. How to gauge a 25 year-old young man's approach to these profound pieces poses as much a challenge to the listeners as to the performer.

The consoling, singing narrative in the lyrical opening motif of the Op. 109 is sensitively carried through to the variations of the final movement.
The serenity of the closing passages of Op. 109 is carried forward into Op. 110, the opening phrase of which glowed with a delicate cantabile. The pacing is wonderfully well-balanced. The Scherzo is boisterous and playful, while the final fugal movement is controlled and meditative. The return of the Arioso was desolate, a whispered message from another place, before the restatement of the fugue, now with greater grandeur, leading to a joyful finale.

The final sonata, the Op. 111, has just two movements. Levit gave the opening measures of the Op. 111 a sort of "angry young man" treatment, jagged and forceful, the drama treading between a fine line of authority and parody. Yet in the second movement's theme and variations, we return to the beauty and delicacy of the Op. 109, and in some of the later variations it seemed as if the music was being created anew, and heard for the very first time. It is an intimate and intense reading with a good font of true magic.

If one longs for the deep psychological yearning in these last three pieces, starting from the memorable, lyrical opening of the Op. 109 to the final fugue, that most life-affirming and solid of musical devices, of the Op. 110, that theme of praise, to the ethereal halo that is contained in some passages of the Arietta of the Op. 111, you will find that young Levit delivers a beautifully well-balanced and deeply musical programme, if not yet fully philosophic.

Even so, this debut album is a real tour-de-force from today's greatest piano hopeful. Unreservedly recommended.
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