Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Memories of late Beethoven at Midnight

In which Igor Levit concludes his Beethoven sonata cycle at the Wigmore Hall

We did not begin until ten o’ clock at night.

The crowd was buoyant, cheered by dinner and wine.

I, arriving with one newly close and full of Chassagne-Montrachet, instinctively felt that things were as they ought. The pale navy overhead, the grand dames wrapped in summer shawls emerging with their husbands from the Venetian restaurant down the way, the burnished scent of Cubans lingering about the awning.

I turned to him and I said: “This feels right.”

He, who knows a lot about old world charm but understands little of the contrapuntal or the 30th’s intrinsically wonderfully free adaption of the sonata form, gave a little smile.

I did not need him to understand but it mattered not.

It was in the late Beethoven sonatas – the very items that comprised his programme tonight – that I first heard the ideas of Igor Levit; the imagination, the surety, the intellect and surprising riposte. I lay in garden quad rooms at Merton, reading Vernon Subutex in a pool of scholar’s gold on hardwood flooring. I listened, agape and piqued, with increasing astonishment at the new subtexts of the Hammerklavier were made apparent with prideful ease never before unveiled. I sat upright, book forgotten, as he approached the 30th, that mark of intimacy which tugs more deeply on my subconscious than all others combined and – oh! The gesangvoll exposed its full lyricism like it had never done before.

The late recital at the Wigmore Hall exposed all this marvellous ingenuity, in a manner that is all too rare. How is it that few young performers are inclined to foray into the realm of late Beethoven, preferring instead the shores of the technically easier early sonatas or the soaring power of the middle-aged great Romantics? Levit exposes how very foolish this oversight is. He has an affecting manner of reaching inside himself, slightly lewdly pressed against the keyboard, and unravelling fascinating intellect together with imposing posture.

I did not realise until a pressed handkerchief was nudged atop my clasped hands that I was silently weeping.

I’m sorry,” I apologised. We stood on the north side of Wigmore Street, which was still balmy in summer heat. It was nearly midnight. “I had no idea I was.

With a serious expression, he looked at me directly. “It’s alright. I think I understand. It’s the cerebral collective. This is your world. Come,” – he offered me his arm – “let’s walk.”

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