When the market is flooded with hopeful young pianists it is an advantage to be a free spirit. Igor Levit, born in Russia, resident now in Germany and in his early 30s, is on a mission to follow his own path, an artist with acute political as well as musical antennas.

A penchant for composers with a gritty intellectual strain has been his notable characteristic so far, but Levit likes to investigate beyond the usual suspects. He has a special interest in those with visionary ambition, and all of this is present in his latest two-disc recital, called Life. Here is a personal selection of music that sees no problem starting out with knotty arrangements of Bach and coming to an end floating away on the cloud of Bill Evans’s dreamlike Peace Piece.

A running theme is at work. An extra layer of interest is created by exploring how music can be refracted through another composer’s voice. Brahms’s transcription of a Bach chaconne from solo violin to piano left hand is one example, Liszt’s piano transfiguration of the “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde another.

The most adventurous choice, and the longest item, is Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on the Chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam”. The work was originally written for organ, but Busoni’s concert transcription turns it into a huge, virtuoso challenge for a pianist who has the technique to take it on. Levit’s performance is tumultuous and incandescent, a show-stopper.

Other, quieter highlights include Schumann’s intimate Ghost Variations and Busoni’s hypnotic Berceuse. There had to be a piece by Frederic Rzewski, a Levit favourite, and the choice of his genre-busting “A Mensch”, a humanitarian memorial piece, tells you everything about Levit that you may not have known already.


Life’ is released by Sony Classical

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