BEETHOVEN: The Late Piano Sonatas
Because Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas still carry a kind of valedictory air, it’s often thought that one needs to reach a certain age before taking them on publicly. The Russian-born pianist Igor Levit, born in 1987, makes a hash of that claim with these brilliant and insightful recordings, among the most highly touted performances of this well-worn territory in recent memory.
Levit obviously has the technique for these complex works — witness the gloriously even trills in the E-major Sonata, Op. 109, and the clarity he brings to the famously taxing fugue that ends the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, Op. 106. But it’s in his probing, insightful approach to the music that he makes such a deep impression. Listen to the natural way he shapes the opening movement of the A-major Sonata, Op. 101, shifting seamlessly between the breath of individual phrases and the span of longer paragraphs. And the pleasures are not all cerebral: His headlong tempos in the opening of the “Hammerklavier” are straight-up thrilling.
You will probably not agree with everything Levit does — I found some moments in Opp. 101 and 110 too martial for my taste — but that is in the nature of a recording that breaks new ground. Hear the spiritual depth of the last movements of the E-major and C-minor Sonatas, as well as much else here, and you will be hard-pressed to deny that Levit does just that.