33-year-old Russian-German pianist Igor Levit is hailed by the New York Times as “one of the essential artists of our time.”
As a prolific ‘lockdown’ musician, his streamed performances pushed his profile to a peak in 2020 (Gramophone voted him Artist of the Year and thanked him for “providing spiritual nourishment at a time when music fell silent”) but his uncompromising activism, especially concerning the re-emergence of extreme nationalism, has survived years of “just shut up and play” commentary, and even assassination threats. Deeper than ‘politics’, universalism is for him central to (as he puts it) “the existential must” of music making.
His repertoire ranges from Bach to Busoni to Bill Evans but it is his Beethoven that commands critical and audience adulation. The sense of line, beauty of tone and voicing, solidity of touch; it’s as perfect as a Bauhaus chair, but the intelligence, rhythmic drive and earthy humour in his playing seems to summon back the spirit of young Beethoven the piano virtuoso.
Last year’s recording of the complete sonatas has been showered with the globe’s most prestigious awards, but regularly returns to the huge piece from the composer’s final years, described by Alfred Brendel as “the greatest of all piano works”: the 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli.
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