Saturday, October 1, 2016

Levit Ritornello

I've only been aware of the existence of Igor Levit for a week now. I've been doing a lot of listening. He is, without a doubt, an enormous talent. I haven't heard his Bach Partitas yet--it's on order--but his Goldbergs are very, very fine. His Rzewski is fantastic and has convinced me that the piece itself, The People United Will Never Be Defeated, is a substantial work. (Though it always makes me think of the famous challenge uttered by Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez during the Siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War: ¡No Pasarán! ("They shall not pass!") To which Gen. Francisco Franco famously replied, after having won the war, "Pasamos." ("We passed.")

But what is most evident is that Igor Levit's Beethoven is simply astonishing. Everyone plays Beethoven and, since he is that kind of composer, it usually sounds pretty good. But it is often too polite and well-mannered. This is not the Beethoven of Igor Levit. Sure, it is beautiful, slow and contemplative when necessary, but it is also rude and violent when necessary. Most of all, Levit makes us hear it differently. Sometimes, and I really don't know how he does this, it sounds almost atonal. I think it has something to do with how he balances the chords and places the phrases. With the exception of Grigory Sokolov, I don't think there is another pianist alive who plays Beethoven so well.

Here, to whet your appetite is just the theme to the Diabelli Variations:

Here is the second movement of op. 31 no. 2:

There is not a lot of Igor Levit on YouTube, but here is a little taste of his Bach:


Anonymous said...

Wonderful pianist! Like many great performers from Russia, Levit is Jewish, as you mentioned. Your previous post railed against "cultural Marxism," a disappointing choice of words as it has become a sad anti-Semitic trope. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the evils of identity politics. But the phrase cultural Marxism in the US refers to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory linking current decadence to Adorno and his Frankfurt school friends. Identity politics and Marxism could not be more antithetical, so the term cultural Marxism is both lazy and anti-intellectual. That doesn't sound like you, so I think you should excise these words from your language.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks Anon for your critique of my use of the term "cultural Marxism". I see that it has a certain history in the US and, no, I don't see myself really endorsing that. For one thing, I am a philo-semite, not an anti-semite! But I think, if you read my argument, in that post and elsewhere, that I am very clear that I see the origins as coming largely from Antonio Gramsci and his theory of hegemony, not from Adorno and the Frankfurt School. I have read some writings about them and not found them convincing. But at the same time, I question your comment that identity politics and Marxism are antithetical. Not from where I stand!