Bethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas
Those who are searching for perfection can stop here. I have praised many sets of the last five Beethoven Piano Sonatas, and I wouldn’t want to withdraw any of the plaudits I have given them, but this set, the first solo recording from Russo-German pianist Igor Levit, sets a new standard that will be very difficult to surpass.
There is not one word about him in the booklet, only highfalutin waffle about the works. But in a YouTube video he explains how his approach to piano playing was decisively influenced by his encounter with pre-Baroque keyboard works (which would not, of course, have been played on the piano).
You can hear this early music influence in Levit’s distinctive touch, which is fundamentally light, though of course he can thunder on the many occasions when Beethoven asks him to. Indeed, his playing displays a kind of archaic quality, which is present in late Beethoven in general. Alongside this command of tone is a grasp of structure on the grandest scale, which puts one in mind of supreme interpreters such as Wilhelm Furtwängler and Sviatoslav Richter, who would surely have applauded this recital.
In a short space I can do little more than gush; but since this two-CD set is cheap, buy it, begin with the astounding Sonata Op. 101, and I guarantee that you will only stop when you are sated with sublimity. Revelatory experiences like this don’t come often in a lifetime.