Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988; Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Op 120; Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated!

Reviewed on Thu 19 Nov, 2015

As Levit abandons caution to run a gamut of chuckles, guffaws, seriousness and profundity, stinting on neither nuance nor dynamic distinctions, you become aware of an edifice unfolding in all its magnificence.

Perplexing indeed is Igor Levit’s performance of the Goldberg Variations. Portents arise at the beginning as expectancies of excellence in the Aria soon dissipate. Levit’s responses vary from close emotional involvement (variations 9, 13 & 25) to strange detachment (3 & 8) to displays of empty virtuosity (26, 27 & 29). Glenn Gould (Sony) and Rosalyn Tureck (DG) individually offer uniquely special experiences. Very special, though, is Lars Vogt (Ondine, reviewed by Rob Cowan on 7 Sep 2015), who with utmost singularity covers every facet of this work. Bach’s theme is Anna Magdalena’s Sarabande, Beethoven’s Diabelli’s innocuous Waltz, transformed by Levit into an assertive statement leading assertively into the majestic march that is variation 1. And as he abandons caution to run a gamut of chuckles, guffaws, seriousness and profundity, stinting on neither nuance nor dynamic distinctions, you become aware of an edifice unfolding in all its magnificence. Examples? Listen to Levit quirky in variation 5; tenderly soft in 8; sonorous and gravely beautiful in 14; exultant in 16 & 17; wondrously touching in 20 as the bones of the melody expand into a yawning, nebulous chasm, of subdued, slow-moving block chords each meticulously voiced, weighted and synchronised. Superlative musicianship throughout; ditto technique. Both remain in harness for Rzewski’s Variations, Levit defining its logic most persuasively. Your response will be personal, but if he wins you over with the raison d’etre of this set, the Diabelli Variations, he could do the same here.
–Nalen Anthoni