You know how people say “Run, don’t walk” to see such and such? I would urge you to see and hear a performance that will expire on May 30. That is, the video will go away. It is here, for this remaining week or so.
On May 1, Igor Levit played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A major, K. 414, with the NDR Radio Philharmonic, a German orchestra, under its chief conductor, Andrew Manze. Levit was born in the Soviet Union and has been living in Germany since his boyhood; Manze is a Brit.
I devote a big portion of my chronicle in the new issue of the magazine to Levit. He has been giving “house concerts”—recitals in his home—via Twitter. But he ventured out of the house to play that Mozart concerto with the radio orchestra.
Well, with four members of it. Levit et al. play K. 414 in the version for piano and string quartet, rather than the version for piano and orchestra. I have a memory of Carnegie Hall in 2002. Alicia de Larrocha, the great Spaniard, bade farewell to that hall on that night. She played K. 414 with the Tokyo String Quartet.
There was no conductor on that occasion, because why would there have been? There was just Señora de Larrocha plus the Tokyo String Quartet. Think of a piano quintet. But Maestro Manze conducts the performance recorded on May 1. Is it a help? I think so, yes. In my experience, Manze is a first-rate Mozart conductor, and I don’t say “first-rate” lightly.
On the screen, we see four string players, socially distanced. They are sans masks. The two violinists and the violist are standing, and the cellist is seated on a platform, so he is about even with the others. The players are casually dressed. The women look better than the men, but when don’t they?
Manze has great pleasure on his face. So does Levit. It’s because they are making music in an ensemble, for the first time in a long time, right? Yes, probably, but also because they are playing Mozart’s Concerto in A, K. 414, which is a gem from heaven.
Levit has a tablet, which is to say a computer tablet, on which he looks at sheet music. He has reams of music in his head, memorized. He played from memory in house concert after house concert. Then he brought on the tablet. I wonder how much prep time he gave K. 414. Probably very little.
I have never heard a pianist play it better. Ever. And I have heard every great Mozart pianist in it, and every good one, and every okay one, and every . . .
You can hear for yourself, but I will make a few comments regardless. For years—for decades—I said that James Levine conducted Mozart with a sense of “just-rightness.” Everything was just right: in weight, tempo, phrasing, dynamics, accentuation, spirit, etc. Levit also exhibits just-rightness.
The middle movement—a song—is confident, cheerful, beautiful. I thought of a statement attributed to Schnabel, among others: “Mozart is too easy for children, too hard for adults.” Igor Levit is an adult, but he has within him a child’s confidence and spirit.
The closing Allegretto is unrushed and unlagging. Yet again, the feeling of “just-rightness.” Levit has both grace and sparkle. The sense of rhythm is inarguable and crucial. Levit is both glittering and rich. How is that possible? Glitter and richness? I don’t know, but you can hear it for yourself.
Again, here. Mozart well served—done justice—is an almost unique pleasure.