Igor Levit’s acclaimed album “Life” has attracted a lot of attention and its selected works have also been included in Levit’s recent recital programs worldwide. This is a profound, versatile and firm reaction to the death and loss of his best friend reflecting inner calm elaborating on an existential level.
The double CD album was recorded during spring 2018 in the famed Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin, well-known for its acoustics, on an excellent new Steinway D. The choice of venue rhymes well with Levit’s chosen works which are a mix between both the spiritual and the secular. The elaboration on life take different forms but will not offer an answer – rather a human contemplation and search for the eternal. Thus, Levit’s journey of styles and moods offers a wealth of discoveries.
Every piece Igor Levit has chosen travels a spiritual path from the earthly to the hereafter. Each work questions the ultimate realities in its own way. Some picks:
No one can arrange symphonic works like Liszt did and Wagner’s “Solemn March to the Holy Grail” from “Parsifal”, is both intense and sublime – the solemn ritual of the Good Friday Music and magically performed through Levit’s calm and transparent playing. The transcription of the “Liebestod” from the same composer’s “Tristan und Isolde”, suspends time and displays the quietly luminous with extraordinary sound control.
Bach’s church melodies in the hands of omni-genius Busoni turns into a sorrowful “Fantasia”, composed as a memorial to the composer’s father.
A discovery and also a marvelous musical experience is Busoni’s seldom heard Berceuse.
The longest work, and maybe the most adventurous, is Liszt’s colossal “Fantasia and Fugue” on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”, transcribed by Busoni. A true marvel of masterly piano playing and artistic spirit.
The “Ghost” Variations by Schumann from the very end of his life, leaves us with the last variation speaking of possible consolation.
Brahms’ famous arrangement of Bach’s “Chaconne” for left hand only, entices us to hold on to life in spite of any possible limitations.
Bill Evans, a jazz pianist hero among classical pianists, has a clear alignment to both Debussy and Messiaen. “Peace Piece” was created in 1958 in a recording session. Levit stays true to the repetitious original yet with solemn and strong integrity.
Frederic Rawitzki’s “A Mensch”, composed in 2012, in memory of performance artist Ben Israel and his quote: “To be a mensch! That is the answer”, distills the spiritual essence of this whole album.