Works by JS Bach, Busoni, Liszt, Rzewski, Schumann, Wagner, and Bill Evans
Igor Levit (piano)
Sony Classical 88985424452 113:00 mins (2 discs)
The title is baffling, the booklet notes impenetrable, so best turn straight to the music. In this memorial for a friend of Igor Levit’s, tragically killed in an accident, the pianist takes us on a sombre and sobering journey, yet also explores transformation and transcendence in an ultimately profound way. Both programme and performances are challenging, in the best sense. Levit plays big, chunky works that demand our full concentration. Most of the pieces were written for other instruments but are here bent to the piano’s will, a violin’s lines and organ’s depth forged into something new at the anvil of the keyboard. It’s best to listen to this recording in one go, as Levit has charted his musical path carefully. Death-haunted Bach and Busoni set the emotional tone, played with a granite-like austerity. At first, the approach seems forbidding but it falls into place once you have heard the whole disc and the appropriate colours and atmospheres he conjures for each piece. A simpler tenderness infuses Schumann’s Geistervariations, written from the edge of sanity and life. We step into a strange world, too, in Rzewski’s A Mensch.
Wagner’s solemn march from Parsifal and Isolde’s ecstatic love-death wreath the centrepiece of the disc, Busoni’s arrangement of Liszt’s monumental Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’. And this is where Levit’s playing comes into its own. He’s in complete control of the architecture of this 32-minute work, drawing us far away into untapped emotional realms. A Busoni Elegy and Bill Evans’s Peace Piece offer soothing balm after such turmoil.