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This is Igor Levit’s third recording for Sony (after Beethoven: The Late Piano Sonatas and Bach: Partitas). Both previous offerings have garnered huge critical praise, and this fascinating programme of variations continues the trend. Having accorded Tharaud’s Goldberg Variations five stars in this issue, Levit tempts me to a forbidden sixth (only the final return of the aria not carrying the expected balm withholds this). Throughout there is a feeling of a voyage of discovery, during which nothing is rushed but neither is any emotion underplayed. This is one of the finest performances available.

Levit’s Diabelli is equally fine. The theme claims no greatness as the initiator of one of the greatest sets of variations; it is left to Beethoven to unfold the multitude of ramifications. Just as Levit’s Goldberg was impeccably ‘Bachian’, so his sense of Beethoven style is beyond criticism. There is a core of gritty strength underpinning the entire performance. The technical standard is beyond reproach and Levit now takes his place amongst a pantheon populated by the likes of Pollini, Arrau and Brendel.

Finally, there is Rzewski’s master set of variations on a popular Chilean song. Recorded by both the composer and its dedicatee, Ursula Oppens, there are many fine recordings available (Corey Hamm among them). Throughout, Levit emphasises the fantastical as well as revelling in the technical demands. As with the Bach and the Beethoven, the return of the theme at the close is designed to carry great emotional force.

This is an extraordinary set, presented in sterling sound.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing