on 3 February 2014
I can add little to the other reviews, save to confirm that as a collector with all the 'great' recordings (and quite a few odd others), this should be in the collection of anyone who adores the LvB sonatas.
Igor Levit has superb poise, fantastic dynamic control, and evident thoughtfulness in his interpretations. Every time I thought he was going too fast or slow, when I looked at the timings I realised he has Horowitz's ability to defy your senses. Horowitz was ill-matched to Beethoven, but he could balance a mountain on a pinhead, pianistically, and if this is what Levit can achieve now, heaven knows what breadth and depth he will achieve in maturity.
Five stars or more to Igor Levit, but zero stars to whichever dull and ungrateful suit at Sony decided that the CD booklet should comprise a long-winded, grandiose, but by definition speculative essay on Beethoven's psyche during the period of the late sonatas (as if we need another), but not a single word - not one! - about the illustrious young pianist who gave us these superb performances.
on 11 August 2014
After all the rave reviews everywhere I listened to this album expecting to be blown away. Unfortunately it didn't quite happen, although Igor Levit's playing is always beautiful, with individual ideas. First, the good: The Sonata No. 28 is an unqualified success, one of the best versions in the catalogue. Levit really makes the first and third movements sing, and the march and the finale are played with refreshing clarity, poise and elegance.
Unfortunately, poise and elegance are Levit's downfalls in some cases. I just wished he let himself go a bit more, to strive for the elemental in late Beethoven. For example, he offers a sleek, elegant, and somewhat lightweight and anti-climactic fugue in the mighty 'Hammerklavier'. I was particularly disappointed by that because I felt that Levit really nailed the gigantic slow movement, achieving a rare fusion of profundity and depth on the one hand and songful simplicity on the other.
The same qualities are Levit's drawbacks in No. 30 - after a sensitively voiced opening movement, he doesn't really raise the voltage for the second movement Prestissimo. The ingredients are there: great articulation and sense of rhythm, but you get the feeling that Levit holds back and doesn't unleash the full drama the music is capable of. This is also the case in the last movement variations, whose climax doesn't soar to the heavens as it does with, say Stephen Kovacevich (on Philips) or Claudio Arrau. No. 31 fares better, though again I prefer a more confrontational interpretation of the final fugue.
As for No. 32, here Levit displays the same qualities in the Arietta as he did in the 'Hammerklavier' Adagio: it's sensitively sung and the variations have a wonderful sense of continuity all the way to the climactic trills, which in this case do not disappoint. Again though, it's not a five-star performance (for me) all the way through, since the Introduction to the first movement is not as impressive as it could be. Other pianists play it in a thundering, earth-shattering way, Levit does not.
Other people may prefer this kind of interpretation, but I just wished he went for the jugular more often because it would have made for one of the best late Beethoven recordings in the business. As it is, I found lots of things to enjoy but was left wanting more. I hope Levit returns to these works at some point in his career because I'd be fascinated to hear how he revisits them.
on 27 March 2014
The subject heading of the essay in the liner note by Martin Geck of Beethoven's five late keyboard sonatas accompanying the two-disc compilation is: 'Dizzying Heights'. the heading relates to the sublime sonatas but it could equally well apply to the debut rendition of the sonatas by the talented young pianist, Igor Levit. The combination of the sublime sonatas and their graceful rendition had on me the impact of a midsummer's night dream.
In response to a hypothetical question to describe in three words the defining characteristics of the young artist, my unhesitating response would be: 'light in touch'.
Buy the two-disc compilation, experience its spell and treasure it in your collection.
on 4 November 2013
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.
on 29 November 2013
This is the most remarkable debut album I have heard. In fact it is the most beautiful tone and touch. it is not the thumping sound one gets in other pianists Beethoven ( dare I say Brendel!). I shall buy every CD he produces. Can we hear his Chopin and Schumann, perhaps not Schubert it might be too much. I see that the BBC are partly responsible; a feather in the cap of that maligned institution
on 18 March 2014
For a young pianist to choose the late Beethoven sonatas for his first recording is bold, even foolhardy. Many ultimately great Beethovenians have left their first thoughts on record - Brendel and Barenboim spring to mind - and although they provide some interesting insights, they are uneven, and in some movements or sonatas, unmemorable or unsatisfying.
Igor Levit is different. These are now my most frequently played recordings of these sonatas: I've listened to each disc about 20 times in the first month, and on each listening I notice something new. There's power and courage - some bold, dramatic interpretations - but subtlety, flexibility and beauty of sound, without ever sounding self-regarding or cosmetic.
I think these are two discs I will continue to enjoy for many years to come.
Having collected many historical recordings, and been bored by the competition-smoothed, faultless but characterless young pianists in the 1990s, I've lately been bowled over by a new generation of musicians who play the piano - Igor Levit, Ingrid Fliter, Nikolai Lugansky, Rafal Blechacz and Yevgeny Sudbin strike me as performers with breadth of vision, individuality and consummate technique which put them on a plane with Richter, Gilels, Curzon, Rubinstein, even Schnabel. It's a wonderful time to appreciate piano music.
on 3 October 2013
5 stars? For Igor Levit? In these transcendental works? Sir, have you completely lost your wits?
Nay, nay, and thrice, nay. This disc will sit very comfortably alongside Solomon, Arrau, Gilels, Richter, Kempff, and other hallowed names lining those shelves of yours. More than this, it will dislodge from those same shelves young upstarts who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near these sacred texts (Paul 'Asleep at the Wheel' Lewis). Yes, the ever biased Gramophone told you to get his set on Harmonia Mundi, and you dutifully listened, procured it, played it once, and put it back. Now the dust motes have settled into drifts, so long has it sat there untouched.
This, I assure you, will not happen with Levit.
I had the good fortune to witness the young Russian play a holy trinity recently: op. 109, 110, 111. Even before fingers touched keys, the audience (almost full, I might add), knew this was going to be different. The pause before the playing was immense as he readied himself to scale Olympus. For Levit, to perform this music is to perform a religious rite (and, at times, a black mass). He grimaced, he wrestled with occult spirits, he pounced into fortissimos, he hunched over the keys, his face mere inches over the ivories in those pianissimo staccato passages in op.111's arietta. (Oh, and his trills are sublime.) He smiled as he glimpsed that higher realm open up and beckon him at that repeated chord, which growls ever louder in op.110.
And we, the rapt audience, bathed in the Sea of Tranquillity. This was Cosmic Beethoven - played the way Beethoven used to be played, by those Soviet-era greats, by Solomon, ...Time moves and Time stands still...the applause was endless, the young Russian endlessly humble. He knows he is merely the conduit for 'mysterium tremendens'. But that's *some* conduit!
This recording is no less engaging than the live performance - indeed, the piano sound is far lovelier than the Steinway I heard, and intimately captured (but not overly so). Ignore the appalling photo shoot where he molests the piano. Try out op. 109's slow movement. The beginning should draw tears from your eyes. You'll hear Chopin and late Brahms, even Debussy...I never noticed how this movement's chiming lullaby sound world pre-empted those other pianist-composers. You'll be moved. Perhaps the fugues aren't as polished as some others...that will come with time. But you get feeling. Not automaton clockwork 'all the right notes' dullness. This is a religious rite. Cosmic, eternal, sacred, transcendent. A glimpse into the Platonic Realm of Ideal Forms.
The Sea of Tranquillity beckons. With young Levit as your guide (a possible heir to Richter's throne, I kid you not), and a ticket price of 10 quid, how could you refuse?
on 9 April 2014
Levit has the lot - power, control, musicianship - and gives stunning performances of these wonderful works. The first movement of the Hammerklavier is quite fast, and played with a lighter touch than one usually hears, but this is observation, not criticism, In fact, I don't think I could find anything to criticise if I wanted to. I hope I'm around long enough to see how he develops over the next decade or so. If you buy these, you won't regret it.
on 3 August 2014
Levit is undoubtedly a great talent but he is not in the Brendel, Kovacevich league just YET. No doubt he will bring greater interpretative insights into these works as he grows older. But there are many admirable traits to these very competitively priced discs and the A flat sonata, in particular, is magnificent in every sense. The hardness of the piano tone in the upper registers was quite difficult on the ear at times, but this is something I find in many of Sony's solo piano recordings e.g. Chopin's solo piano music with Perahia has the same problem.
on 18 December 2013
No words can describe this set. Buy it and listen to the birth of someone who will become one of the greatest. The recording is one of the best I have ever heard of the piano..