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34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cosmic Beethoven and Possible Heir to Richter's Throne, 3 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas (Audio CD)
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?
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 Nov 2013, 12:39:30 GMT
Peter says:
Your enthusiasm communicates itself well and is evident. However do put yourself in the shoes of someone who hasn't listened to Igor Levit nor heard him in recital. Such an agnostic really needs a sharper and more musically articulate explanation of what all the fuss is about here. With all respect your employment of a kind of neo-Schopenhauerian terminlogy of 'time standing still', a 'glimpse of the Platonic realm of eternal Forms', 'transcendental' (transcending what exactly?), a 'sea of tranquility' (are seas ever tranquil?) invites others to swallow uncritically a far too reverential view of these performances that isn't (yet) anchored upon any convincing account of Levit's playing. True, it is notoriously difficult to write about music (music always eludes mere words, and I suppose if it didn't there wouldn't be much point in listening to it), but what you've done here is simply indicate your own enthusiasm rather than say anything about these performances. To put it bluntly, readers aren't so much interested in your own psychology as in less subjective issues to do with musical performance.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Nov 2013, 16:03:40 GMT
Thanks, Peter, for your thoughtful response.

Like the man in orthopaedic shoes, I stand corrected. Well, almost. You are correct that I don't have the musicological savvy to describe the music in those terms. Alas, I fall back on the poet's favourite tool - metaphor. The 'Sea of Tranquility' was a reference to a crater on the moon named thus. I tried to convey something of the cosmic impact Late Beethoven seems to open up for me. Levit reaches those dizzying heights. It was all a bit Bernard Michael O'Hanlon wannabe and sub E.T.A. Hoffman. But, then, classical music reviews can be quite dull affairs. Surely those agnostics you speak of would be getting their more learned responses from the usual sources: International Record Review, MusicWeb International, or, if times are desperate, Gramophone. Surely they come to Amazon's amateur playing field for something with a bit more fire and, dare I say, poetry?

More felicity anon,

Dr. Thropplenoggin

Posted on 15 Aug 2014, 12:16:34 BST
dalmatian says:
I thank you immensely for your review and ditto for your thoughts on Lewis, it sat on my shelf and collected dust until I gave it away.
You have wetted my appetite for the next great pianist and a set of the Late Sonatas (and Bach's Partitas soon)!?
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