CD Review: LIFE (Igor Levit, solo piano)

Post image for CD Review: LIFE (Igor Levit, solo piano)

by Jim Allen on December 28, 2018



Along with Daniil Trifonov, pianist Igor Levit’s concerts and CDs must recall what it first felt like to encounter Gilels and Richter, two other super-talented Russian pianists who brought excitement to classical music. When I saw Igor Levit live, one of the most striking aspects for this sensitive and strong pianist was the fascinating combination of music choices. So it wasn’t surprising that the pieces for his latest solo CD are as varied as night and day: included works are by Busoni, Bach, Schumann, Rzewski, Wagner, Liszt, and Bill Evans, whose “Peace Pipe” couldn’t get a more sensitive rendering.

Returning to the studio after three years, Levit reflects on both being and being beaten by the gaping gorge of grief, selecting works as a musical journey as a way of reflecting on and memorializing the accidental death of an intimate friend. Yet even as the origin of the album is death, the title is Life — suggesting that music, no matter how sad, is consoling and supportive and life-affirming. This Sony Classical release will simply make you glad to be alive. It is beautifully played, beautifully felt, and beautifully conveyed piano playing.

This album doesn’t come to you — there’s an intentional paucity of flashy fingering fireworks — you must concentrate on it. At first, this 2-CD recital may seem unappealing, but you absolutely should give it a listen as, piece after piece, it really delivers. I know I already loved Busoni’s Fantasia after J.S. Bach, but had anyone said that a difficult 33-minute Busoni transcription of an organ work by Lizst (the Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”) based on a theme from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete would become one of my new favorite piano works I would have expressed disbelief. And the unhappy, heartrending conditions of Schumann’s final work for piano, the “Ghost Variations,” are given an emancipating handling of optimism. But this and other stunning, beautiful, poignant selections make for yet another terrific set from this amazing musician.

Igor Levit, pianist
Sony Classical | 2 discs | 113:60 | released October 5, 2018
available at Amazon, iTunes, and Sony Classical

Leave a Comment