Given the critical praise already showered on this young pianist, it might seem churlish to quibble about any aspect of Igor Levit’s formidable talent.
His technique is certainly dazzling and often displays a thrilling impetuosity, while in quiet passages his tonal mastery enables phrases to float and sing with beguiling persuasion.
Nevertheless, in an undoubtedly thrilling performance of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, one wondered if there was too much “interpretation” at work.
Levit made the opening Allegro sound clatteringly hurried and lengthened its pauses to an unusually portentous degree; and the last movement was taken so fast it became a whirlwind of blurred activity.
His general reluctance to dawdle, however, benefited the Adagio, which avoided any suggestion of self-indulgence and sounded almost improvised.
Levit adopted similar approaches to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 22 in F (lots of Sturm und Drang contrasts and a final coda that went well over the speed limit) and Bach’s Second Partita, where its six movements were either lovingly polished like jewelled miniatures or glittered like fast-flowing rivulets.
The biggest surprise of the evening was the inclusion of Ronald Stevenson’s Fantasy on Peter Grimes, a wonderful post-Lisztian transmogrification of themes from Britten’s opera, despatched by Levit with blistering virtuosity.
And his choice of encore, Which Side Are You On? by Frederic Rzewski, was equally unexpected.
But what a long-winded example of American reactionary modernism this 12-minute piece was, especially when preceded by five minutes of anecdotal waffling.
One or two trifles by Chopin or Rachmaninov would have been far more appropriate.