Igor Levit makes his debut on Sony in the last six piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven, a part of the repertoire that is usually reserved for mature artists, not rising stars. Yet in spite of some signs of youthful enthusiasm, and a possible loss of objectivity from playing these pieces on a busy recital schedule, Levit has a good feeling for Beethoven's late style, and his 2013 release is a promising beginning for his recording career. The excessive use of rubato is something Levit should watch, because too much alteration of the tempo dissipates Beethoven's energy, and even though these sonatas have their moments of reverie and trance-like passages that can be interpreted as mystical experiences, too much elasticity can make them seem like idle daydreams, or worse, forgetfulness.
Dejan Lazić has long been interested in the art of the transcription, and here his program is built around the piano concerto that Beethoven fashioned from his own Violin Concerto. Lazić gives a fine performance: Trim and punchy, it sits well under his fingers. It was created for London-based Muzio Clementi, pianist and publisher, whose imposing B-minor Sonata makes an apt companion. As does the third panel of this triptych, the Sonata written by Johann Baptiste Cramer, a musician admired by Beethoven and who also settled in London. His dramatic sonata “Le Retour à Londres” is thrillingly played here.
This is a very complete set indeed. It includes all the quartets in the latest edition prepared by Jonathan Del Mar which restores many important markings by Beethoven and which has been done in collaboration with the Endellion Quartet. Both versions of the first quartet or included as well as Beethoven's quartet arrangement of the piano sonata Op. 14 no. 1. the Gross Fuge, both string quintets plus other works for string quartet including the two prelude and fugues.
Never have I heard the extraordinary and even 'strange' or 'otherworldly' character of the late Beethoven string quartets better than in the performance of the Julliard Quartet. They perfectly caption what could not be better described then as the revolution in the writing of string quartets that these late quartets represent. One could even say that some passages lay a bomb under the expectations of contemporary listereners and even now could almost shock you. So powerful and profound is this music while only using the modest means of four string instruments. Away with civilised chitchat, away with certainty! Here comes Beethoven!