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Igor Levit’s latest 2-CD album is a sufficiently epic achievement to make even his finest rivals sound small-minded by comparison. The underlying theme of Life is the journey from the earthly to the seraphic, ‘music whose bleak grandeur and melancholy beauty’ is lovingly chosen by Levit as solace after the death of a close friend.

Busoni’s Fantasia after JS Bach gives us one composer through the prism of another, an elegy in memory of Busoni’s father. Indeed, Busoni is the presiding presence in this extraordinary album, and never more so than in his outsize setting of Liszt’s organ Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’, most daunting of transcriptions. And whether you hear Levit in the transfiguring glow of his sonority in the central Adagio or find your pulse racing in his wild acceleration – like a suddenly applied centrifugal force – you will hear an inclusive if Mephistophelian virtuosity known to very few pianists.

Levit sees Brahms’ left-hand arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne as far more than a slim alternative to Busoni’s necessarily more opulent setting, and his choice of Schumann’s valedictory Ghost Variations reveals a world where all former exuberance is forgotten in an engulfing darkness of the spirit. Busoni’s Berceuse is, again, an unsettling elegy in memory of the composer’s mother, while Rzewski’s A Mensch and Bill Evans’ Peace Piece add a further shaft of light and novel dimension. Levit may confess to finding Chopin ‘dumb’ yet Evans’ gently rocking bassline supporting intermittent cascades surely recalls Chopin’s Berceuse, as well as the comfort and final optimism of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale: ‘Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new born.’

Igor Levit’s Life is as awe-inspiring as it is thought-provoking, crowned by Sony’s lavish presentation and outstanding sound.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing