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Igor Levit: Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski / theartsdesk review

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Three massive sets of variations on three discs is a lot of music to digest, along with 104 separate tracks. So clear an evening and turn to the third CD first. Be blown away by Frederic Rzewski's mind-boggling sequence of 36 variations on the Chilean song The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, a tune originally written as an anthem for the Allende government. Rzewski's variations were composed in 1975. It's a brilliantly catchy melody, and what Rzewski subjects it to will amaze; several centuries' worth of virtuoso piano technique compressed into an hour. The faster, percussive variations border on the unplayable, but Igor Levit makes everything sound lucid and logical. There's a hefty quote from the Eisler/Brecht Solidarity Song midway. Levit slams the piano lid down, and whistles. Some moments sound like Rachmaninov, others like Ligeti, though the contrapuntal wizardry repeatedly suggests Bach. And, as with the Goldberg Variations, the theme returns to close the work. It's phenomenal, and this performance has to be one of the greatest piano recordings in years.  

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