One of my private theories of performance is that as dog owners look like their dogs, so pianists look like their approach to playing. And a case in point is the Russo-German pianist Igor Levit, whose cycle of the complete Beethoven sonatas is the hot ticket of the current Wigmore Hall season.
Levit is young, smart, sharp, and wears impressively well-tailored lounge suits on the platform: clean-cut, modern, sleek. And an assessment of his Beethoven sonatas would read similarly. They’re immaculately well-presented: fresh and clean, as though disburdened of irrelevance and undue weight. His technique is so elegant it almost makes you want to laugh with pleasure – not least, when he steers the final measures of a movement into the most perfect of soft landings, like a pilot in complete command of the descent on to the runway. Nothing flusters him. His judgment is acute, his understanding of what’s foreground as opposed to background always “sorted”. And his dazzling facility is neither dazzling nor facile in a bad sense. It’s a brilliance that reveals rather than hides, and truly opens up the inner life of the sonatas.
If this all reads like a love letter to Mr Levit, well perhaps it is. I’m certainly in love with his Beethoven, which engages me like that of no other living pianist I can think of. And though sweeping predictions can be vacuous, I’m tempted to say that of all the young players on the world circuit right now, Levit is the one most obviously destined for greatness. He’s 30 this year; and whatever lies ahead of him in his career, it will continue to pull crowds.
Sadly, the crowds who used to flock to invitation concerts – charity events, young-artist platforms and the like – at the South Kensington home of Sir Vernon Ellis will be disappointed to know that the concerts, which had become an institution, have stopped. Thanks to neighbours complaining about noise.
But there’s another salon venture poised to take in what Ellis used to champion, and it’s at the Chelsea home of Vivien McLean: a music-loving lady-about-town whose house once belonged to the pianist Louis Kentner and has a top-floor artist’s studio space where the only things to be disturbed by noise are passing birds. Her concerts tend to run as platforms for emerging string players to strut their stuff on instruments they’re hoping to have bought for them by generous supporters.
But last week was something different: a fundraiser for Ian Page’s Classical Opera company that involved a seriously impressive young bass-baritone called Božidar Smiljanić: a name to note, even if you can’t pronounce it.
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