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A usually considerate programme, brilliantly carried out, from Igor Levit – Seen and Heard Worldwide


United Kingdom Brahms, Hersch, Wagner and Liszt: Igor Levit (piano). Wigmore Corridor, London, 25.9.2022. (MB)

Igor Levit (c) Robbie Lawrence

Brahms, arr. Busoni – Chorale Preludes, BV B 50
Fred Hersch – Variations on a Folks Music
Wagner, arr. Kocsis – Tristan und Isolde, Prelude to Act I
Liszt – Piano Sonata in B minor, S.178

A usually considerate programme, brilliantly carried out, from Igor Levit: the second half reprising that of his Salzburg recital in August (evaluate click on right here), the primary fairly completely different, but forming an equally coherent complete. First, we heard the six of Brahms’s eleven late organ chorale preludes Busoni organized for piano in 1902. The primary, ‘Herzlich tut mich erfreuen’, rightly introduced itself paradoxically, or higher dialectically, each emphatically as piano music and but additionally as ‘letting the music communicate for itself’, in that the majority essential of clichés. Musical processes behind and beneath the melody revealed two — sorry, three — nice minds at work. Brahms’s arpeggiated half-lights emerged, as if from his personal piano music; they had been by no means imposed. That attentiveness to materials — a kind of twin authenticity, although not within the debased sense the later twentieth century made all too present — marked out ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ as extra yielding, but equally easy, and the ineffably pretty ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’ as in another way inward, Levit relishing Busoni’s modest interventions. The 2 preludes on ‘Herzlich tut mich verlangen’ had been correctly contrasted, the primary talking with a richness of tone apt for a extra overtly Romantic outpouring (from each Brahms and Busoni), the second performing with ‘Es ist ein Ros entsprungen’ each to encase that zeal and coming closest to the Passions of Bach. It was deeply transferring in its modesty, persistence, and depth. Levit took his time, slightly fantastically, with the heartbreaking ‘O Welt, ich muß dich lassen’. His dignified efficiency spoke with a distilled knowledge, like Brahms’s, that appeared to say all that want, maybe all that would, be stated.

Fred Hersch’s 2021 Variations on a Folks Music adopted. An preliminary assertion of a time-honoured theme, right here ‘Oh Shenandoah’, offered a connection slightly than kinship with Brahms, however sufficient to have one assume. Twenty variations adopted. Harmonic recolouring got here first to the fore, adopted in what I feel could have been the third variation by a change of temper to one thing much less ruminative, extra extrovert. All kinds of therapies ensued, one (principally) for the left hand standing out in darkish, muscular vogue, as an inheritor to Romantic custom, one other insistent and ardent, maybe a little bit after Liszt (to return). Others had been extra inward or floating. This was evidently music Levit had internalised, simply because it this clearly represented a tribute from one pianist to a different pianist — and vice versa. The principal language could have been solid within the jazz world, however it was beneficiant in its body of reference — and that generosity prolonged to spirit too.

Zoltán Kocsis’s transcription of the Prelude to Act I of Tristan was strenuous, big-boned, virtuosic, the emphasis positioned very a lot on battle, on turning into. At all times directed to a aim that was by no means reached, its oppressive lack of decision (in a couple of sense) led us straight right into a efficiency of Liszt’s B minor Sonata maybe nonetheless extra fiery, nonetheless extra coherent than that I had admired a month earlier in Salzburg. It was equally daring and questing, and naturally extra unremittingly virtuosic, virtuosity and rhetoric all the time means to an finish slightly than ends in themselves. Submit-Beethovenian goal-direction was equally obvious, by means of slightly than regardless of flexibility. Bringing us to the recapitulation, as an example, Levit triumphantly banished the false daybreak of the previous fugato to the fiery furnace. Type was a dwelling, respiratory, even diabolical factor. Liszt right here was, fairly rightly, each extremely built-in and far-flung, Liszt’s essence grasped and communicated.

Element mattered too: the return of these unusual descending scales informed us past any doubt that, had been a single observe in them to be modified, so too would the remainder of the work. By no means, not for one second, might one doubt our information knew the place he was main us. For Levit’s command of line, which one may effectively think about ‘Wagnerian’ by way of unendliche Melodie, was not the least device in speaking a pianistic sorcery on Liszt’s half that underneath the precise palms is something however rhapsodic. As for palms, had I not witnessed the efficiency with my very own eyes in addition to ears, I may need sworn there have been 4 at work. This can be a masterpiece of musical thought, after all, however it’s equally piano music, and sounded as such, reminding me of Donald Tovey’s commentary that Liszt’s piano music was that of somebody who couldn’t fail to make a gorgeous sound when touching the keys. Magnificence takes many guises, after all, however Liszt by no means, ever writes towards the instrument. Nor, so it appears, does Levit ever play towards it. A beatific shut appeared, at the least on reflection, to necessitate the beautiful but plain-spoken encore, (as in Salzburg) Schumann’s ‘Der Dichter spricht’.

Mark Berry

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