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Igor Levit - Bach, Beethoven and Rzewski / Buffalo News review

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What 28-year old pianist Igor Levit is performing here is a largely unprecedented but altogether brilliant program on disc: Bach's Goldberg Variations, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Rzewski's "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" variations in one disc box. Not to put too fine a point on it but, Wow. Here, to understate heroically, is not something one sees every day – as notater Anselm Cybinski notes "what a triathlon!...Three hours of music, three different periods … these works constitute three of the most demanding cycles in the whole history of music, representing a summation of entire centuries not just pianistically but above all in terms of their compositional universality, functioning as monumental magnets that draw into their force field almost everything their composers were capable of achieving." The shocker here is including Rzewski's variations on the Chilean Protest Song "The People United Will Never Be Defeated" with Beethoven's Diabelli and Bach's Goldberg Variations. The shock isn't its inappropriateness but rather the opposite – its total appropriateness. You could easily argue that Levit's performance of Rzewski's huge work isn't on par with those of Ursula Oppens or Marc-Andre Hamelin's (whose recording of it he heard before learning the piece himself). But it is indeed a great performance of the greatest epic among modern piano works. And there's a noble aptness in putting it into a box with Beethoven's Diabelli Variations in which a truly paltry theme is transformed unimaginably by Beethoven's genius. Bach's Goldberg Variations may always be thought of as the recorded possession of Glenn Gould but Levit performs those brilliantly too. Levit has always avoided it, he says, because his favorite recordings of it have always been by harpsichordists but "at some point the time came when I simply had to do it." About as formidable a box set recital by a young pianist as you're ever likely to find.  SEE ALL REVIEWS ON THE Buffalo News PAGE