tue 23/07/2024

Igor Levit, Wigmore Hall/Hill Quartet, Bandstand Chamber Festival review – seamlessness inside and out | reviews, news & interviews

Igor Levit, Wigmore Hall/Hill Quartet, Bandstand Chamber Festival review – seamlessness inside and out

Igor Levit, Wigmore Hall/Hill Quartet, Bandstand Chamber Festival review – seamlessness inside and out

Total fluency from the great pianist and a young team already rich in wisdom

Igor Levit: humanity incarnateWigmore Hall

An early hero of lockdown, livestreaming from his Berlin home in terrible sound at first, Igor Levit is a supreme example of how adaptable musicians can survive in times like these.

True, he has the advantage of being the go-to pianist of the moment, but who else would take Satie’s 18-hour Vexations into a recording studio for more live broadcasting, or master the complete Beethoven sonatas more thoroughly for the most exciting of live experiences at the Salzburg Festival (in full) and now the Wigmore Hall (a telling selection)?

There is focused brilliance in the playing as well as deep thoughtfulness, but no affectation, no rushing even in the fastest passages, no murk in the thunder. The articulation proved the wisdom of his choices. The first canonical sonata, Op. 2 No. 1 in F minor, and its mostly radiant opposite pole (despite the Funeral March which gives the work its nickname), Op. 26 in A flat major, came as a pair bracketed by meteoric flashes in the F minor’s opening movement, stalking and bouncing in the dark, and the A flat major’s shining finale. Oddly, it was the early work’s slow movement which felt the more profound, bringing us thoughtfully out in to the light; the Funeral March, for all its parallels with the “Eroica” counterpart and its influence on Chopin, feels more like a genre piece, slightly impersonal, definitely public until the end, its chords and silences shot through with tension. Beethoven’s originality in these works was lived by Levit in every bar, not least the delicious trios of each scherzos. Igor LevitHe also won our love for Op. 79 in G major, originally conceived as a “Sonata facile” and clearly intermezzo-like in this context, fireworks framing a bittersweet barcarolle, though it never sounded straightforwardly simple. The tying-up of elements in the great “Waldstein” Sonata was magisterially satisfying: the restless C major cavalcades of its opening movement, never harried, and the stasis of what Beethoven calls the introduction to the big finale resolved in perfect space for the great healing melody that crowns all, from pearly dawn with sustaining pedal down to majesty and final flourishes that never felt too hectic.

How liberating it felt to stand in the hall at the end, how soothing to be then addressed directly by an artist who has already earned Mensch status through his living of the European ideal and humanitarian aims – though I’m sure online viewers felt the sincerity of the address too. Levit’s sincere vote of thanks to all watching was followed by an introduction to a new piece by a man he considers “one ot the very greatest jazz pianists, musicians, composers of our time, but above all the most wonderful human being…a real idol for me and a friend,” American Fred Hersch, who sent him during lockdown a specially composed piece, Trees. “it created a moment of healing, music which really gave me support, warmth, heart, love, connection”. Touching and tender the UK premiere truly was. We look forward to the other five pieces Hersch has yet to compose. Hill Quartet in Battersea Park BandstandTrees in the shape of the London planes surrounding Battersea Park Bandstand added to the healing which has been constant through the four chamber music concerts there these past few weeks. The last, on Tuesday evening, was as individual as the others had been, and distinctive in its weather too – the warmest Indian summer evening. The players of the Hill Quartet were the youngest, too holders of the Royal Academy of Music's Chamber Music Fellowship and mentored by John Myerscough, cellist of the Doric Quartet which launched this festival, but only just, ceding a few years to the previous concert’s Solem Quartet. Their poise and style were those of a well-established team, even though the wonderful second violinist, David Lopez, has only just joined (pictured above and below by William Marsey, the quartet in the bandstand: Bridget O'Donnell, Lopez, Julia Doukakis and Ben Michaels).

Was it just coincidence that the gaggle of ring-necked parakeets squawked their loudest during the glissandoing trio of Haydn’s E flat major quartet, Op. 64 No. 6, with its high-pitched bird notes on return? This time planes were not flying overhead to smother the outer-section serenity of a Haydn slow movement, as they had in the Solems’ concert, and that would have been a problem given the half-lights and mystical shimmers of the Ravel Quartet. I’ve not heard a more fluid and refined interpretation; if you strained to catch some of the subtleties so much the better.Hill Quartet 2It just shows that if you give an audience the licence to do what they want and the performance is first-rate, they’ll listen; in none of the four recitals could there be the slightest irritation with near(est) neighbours, as there was at the Wigmore – but that at least was a reminder of the live experience. Another shout-out to clarinettist Anthony Friend for seeing the bandstand as a plausible venue, for his links with Wandsworth Council (out in force on the last night, along with the Mayor) and fundraisers. It points the way to a brilliant spring and summer season in 2021, regardless of how the pandemic places us. May other bandstands in town be used in similar ways; there’s no lovelier way of enjoying chamber music.

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