Henze: Tristan*; as well as works by Liszt, Mahler and Wagner
Igor Levit (piano); *Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Franz Welser-Möst
Sony Classical 19439943482 99:59 min (2 discs)
The cover features a blurry scene in sepia monochrome with Igor Levit standing behind a piano, his shadow in view, light dancing through the smoke. It is a recording haunted by the penumbra and the deep darkness of the night, the shadow of oneself and uncontrollable emotions. It brings together music struggling with one of the most influential operas ever written, that of Wagner Tristan and Isolda, and the dissonant chord that destabilized the history of music. If I had to choose one word to describe this recording, it would be “intense”.
The major work is that of Henze Tristan, a concerto-like collection of six Preludes for piano, electronic tapes and orchestra that responds to Wagner more than a century later. Where Wagner is “incandescent and exclusive,” Henze said, his music is “cool, like it’s early morning, and questioning and longing are expressed in a low voice.” Levit delivers exactly those qualities in this excellent tale with the Leipzig Gewandhaus and conductor Franz Welser-Möst, making sense of his post-modern memories of Brahms, Chopin, Renaissance polyphony and birds, his scream “of the whole suffering world”.
Hear the prelude to Tristan and Isolda, arranged by Zoltán Kocsis, is then an eerily still experience, despite the intelligence of Levit’s performance. It seems that even a pianist of his caliber can struggle to reproduce the feverish quality of an entire orchestra, of quivering strings, over a percussive solo piano. The same problem sabotages the Adagio to Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, another work haunted by death and love, but which leaves few emotional traces. At least there is Liszt. A non-sentimental, discreet and rather charming liebestraum No. 3 opens the debates; a cathartic evening harmonies concludes them.