Igor Levit

Bach: Partitas BWV 825-830

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Russian pianist Igor Levit, trained in Austria and Germany, gained good festival notices and a New Generation Artist nod from the BBC. For his initial recordings he has confidently chosen repertoire that is usually thought to take some life experience to master: first the late Beethoven sonatas, and here Bach's six Partitas for keyboard, BWV 825-830. The partitas receive subjective, frankly pianistic readings less often than they used to, and for Levit the recording is a gutsy move. He relies less on pedal (like the big piano names of the old days) or extreme tempos (like Gould, although a few of his scherzos and finales are unusually quick) than on articulation combined with small variation in speed to define each partita and each movement with a free and distinctive spirit. The slow movements, with feathery trills and plenty of expressive space, are exceptionally beautiful, and the entire concept is thought out in detail; when Levit takes a fixed tempo, that actually stands out and becomes the point of the movement where it occurs. This kind of Bach is clearly not for everybody, but it's both original and executed with steely perfection. Mention must also be made of Sony's tremendous sound from a Berlin radio studio, capturing Levit's work in granular detail and imparting just the right measure of intimate intensity.

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