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Igor Levit's 'Bach | Beethoven | Rzewski' Makes Iowa Public Radio's 2015 Mega-Meta-List

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Today's output of classical albums is (pardon me while I scribble on the back of an envelope) something like triple what it was a generation ago. I won't vouch for that exact ratio, but I will for Anne Midgette's description of how it feels: "Keeping up with the stream of new releases is like trying to drink from a fire hose." Now imagine trying to capture a hose's jet-spray in a bucket, and you'll see why making a classical "best-of-year" list in 2015 struck many writers as a thankless task, even a hopeless one. Yet that didn't stop more of us than ever from trying - perhaps enough of us to be called a crowd. Could that crowd, taken together, have some kind of collective wisdom?

That was more or less the premise behind my "Classical Mega-Meta-List" last year (inspired by economist /blogger Tyler Cowen). I tallied every "best of year" list I could find - a total of 36, comprising about 100 writers.  This year I found far more: 64 lists, with at least 160 contributors, which makes this year's meta-list 60-77% more mega. It's not surprising that almost twice as many releases made the final cut, defined by being chosen for more than three best-of-year lists. Last year, 28 albums reached that threshold; this year, 50 albums did. That's a 78% increase.

Igor Levit's 'Bach | Beethoven | Rzewski' received more than 12 votes in this pole.

Two of the top five albums feature twenty-something Russian-born pianists playing variation sets - yet they could hardly be more different. Igor Levit, whose family moved to Germany when he was eight, focuses on leviathan variation sets by the greatest German composers, Bach and Beethoven - and adds an equally mammoth set by Frederick Rzewski based on a Chilean protest song, The People United Will Never be Defeated. Levit fell in love with it when he combed the music library as a student in Hannover, and he has recently commissioned a new work from the American composer. (Footnote: the pianist who recorded the premiere of the Rzewski in 1976, Ursula Oppens, issued a remake in 2015 which also made the mega-meta-list Bronze category - the only contemporary classic to make the list twice.)