Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas / Igor Levit

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A 2020 GRAMMY Nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Solo and a New York Times 25 Best Classical Track Selection for 2019!Igor Levit’s work on the...

A 2020 GRAMMY Nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Solo and a New York Times 25 Best Classical Track Selection for 2019!

Igor Levit’s work on the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas has been the most important endeavour of the past 15 years of his life. His new studio recording of the complete sonata cycle represents the recorded testament to almost half his life spent in the study and performance of these sonatas. The release of this momentous 9-album cycle is one of the most eagerly awaited recordings for the 250-year Beethoven anniversary.

No other composer has had such an important influence on Igor Levit’s life as that of Ludwig van Beethoven. He admits that this composer’s music is around him practically every day and in almost everything he does. The profound impact of Beethoven’s music - since his first emotional point-of-no-return with the Missa solemnis at age 13, followed by his first dedicated work on Sonata op. 2/2–has subsequently shaped Levit’s approach to almost all music, whether he is playing Liszt, Shostakovich or Rzewski.


Reviewing Igor Levit’s stunning 2013 solo CD debut featuring Beethoven’s last five piano sonatas, I wrote how the then-26-year-old pianist’s affinity for the composer’s essentially linear style and intense expressivity bordered on clairvoyance. Indeed Levit’s youthful ardor and mature intellect augured well for a complete Beethoven Sonata cycle, which he recently completed a few months past his 31st birthday in 2018. I won’t be surprised if Levit’s cycle will dominate among the many releases scheduled for Beethoven’s 250th birthday year. Just what makes his Beethoven so special?

For starters, Levit possesses a clear, virile, and well-balanced sonority from bottom to top, yet he’s never afraid to roughen up his sound to impart more visceral impact to the composer’s frequent sforzandos, consequently underscoring the music’s brasher qualities. Second, Levit’s superb technical facility allows him to vary his articulation according to Beethoven’s specifications with little help from the sustain pedal, as the Op. 31 and Op. 81a sonatas’ outer movements vibrantly bear out, or in the Op. 2 No. 3 Allegro assai’s rapidly fluttering right-hand runs and the fleet yet magnificently controlled Waldstein and Appassionata finales.

The heightened profile Levit brings to inner lines and counter-melodies also yields fresh insights. For example, I’ve rarely heard the thirds in the Op. 26 Scherzo’s left and right hands emerge in such playful dialogue, or the accompaniment underneath the main theme of Op. 14 No. 1 propel the music so urgently. And like Schnabel, Levit grants Op. 27 No. 1’s second movement its zany, rabble-rousing due.

The Op. 28 “Pastorale” is intriguingly stern (the starkly austere Andante) and giddy (the Rondo’s difficult coda simply flies off the printed page). Perhaps Op. 54’s Menuetto is a tiny bit staid and lacking in lilt, yet Levit’s deft handling of the Allegretto’s maze-like cross-rhythms and offbeat accents justifies his brisk pace. Levit’s headlong Op. 78 Rondo is the only interpretation I’ve heard to match Glenn Gould’s audacity while also taking Beethoven’s phrase markings on faith.

For detailed commentary about the last five sonatas, I refer readers to my aforementioned 2013 review of these performances when they first appeared. My high estimation of them has not changed, although Pollini retains the Apollonian edge in Op. 111, while Perahia now rules as the most three-dimensionally detailed guide to Op. 106’s Fugue since Claudio Arrau. The engineering’s concert-hall realism and Levit’s provocative annotations add value to a significant release from one of today’s most stimulating pianists.

-- (10/10, Jed Distler)

As you’d predict from an artist who combines acute intelligence and technical panache, it’s utterly absorbing. It’s also a cycle that doesn’t have favourites – Levit feels equally committed to every single piece. Above all there’s that sense of being completely at one with Beethoven himself. And that, in the end, is what makes this such a magnificent achievement.

– Gramophone

He is such a probing and sensitive artist that it’s easy to take for granted how technically brilliant his playing is.

– New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 20, 2019

  • UPC: 190758431826

  • Catalog Number: 19075843182

  • Label: Sony Music Entertainment

  • Number of Discs: 9

  • Period: Classical

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Performer: Igor Levit


  1. Sonatas for Piano Nos. 1-32

    Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

    Performer: Igor Levit (Piano)