Classical reviews: Bach, Brahms and Britten

Michael Church
·2-min read
The pianist Igor Levit has released a new CD of rarely performed works  (Wigmore Hall)
The pianist Igor Levit has released a new CD of rarely performed works (Wigmore Hall)

Igor Levit: Encounter

JS Bach arr Busoni: Chorale Preludes; Brahms arr Busoni: 6 Chorale Preludes; Brahms arr Max Reger: Vier Ernste Gesänge; Max Reger arr Julian Becker: Nachtlied; Morton Feldman: Palais de Mari

Sony 19439786572

★★★★★

The German-Russian pianist Igor Levit is classical music’s man of the moment – his latest honour has come from the German government – and his exploits become ever more remarkable. No one else has broadcast Satie’s Vexations live in their entirety – the same piece repeated 840 times – as he recently did to raise money for freelance performers; no other classical musician’s streamed performances from his home have equalled his tally of 100,000-plus followers on Twitter.

His latest CD notches up a different sort of first, in that nobody else has thought of combining its rarely performed works in one grouping. First, he performs Bach’s complete chorale preludes in Busoni’s lovely arrangements, then we get some Brahms chorale preludes by the same arranger. Next comes Brahms arranged by Max Reger, then a piece by Reger himself in Julian Becker’s arrangement. Finally comes “Palais de Mari” by Morton Feldman, whose economy with notes is the musical equivalent of a speech by a Trappist monk. It’s all fascinating, and all brilliantly played.

Britten: Peter Grimes

Stuart Skelton and Erin Wall, with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Edward Gardner

Chandos CHA 5250(2)

★★★★★

A week after its premiere, Britten described the message of his most popular opera, Peter Grimes, thus: “I wanted to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea”. A year later, however, Peter Pears – for whom the title role was created – described it as “an opera based on the conflict between society and the individual”. Both assertions are of course true, but, given that Grimes was just the first in a long line of social outcasts in Britten’s oeuvre, the second is nearer the mar

Their sexuality – whose expression was still unlawful in the mid-20th century – permanently set them apart, and Grimes’s sexuality, which we are left to infer rather than having spelled out, was all the more poignant as a result. This new recording under Edward Gardner’s baton is as superb as one would expect from this brilliant line-up, with Stuart Skelton, an acclaimed Grimes in previous productions, forming an electrifying focus, and soprano Erin Wall as his foil. Delivered by the Bergen Philharmonic, the orchestral interludes form a glorious backdrop.

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