A pity that this concert epitomised the regrettable general trend of eschewing a short opener: Coriolan would have worked well. Good though that Igor Levit is progressing his Beethoven odyssey, here the ‘Emperor’ Concerto to complement his ongoing Sonata series at Wigmore Hall.
Levit gave a brilliant yet thoughtful account, with a wide range of touch and dynamics, and some fleet tempos in the outer movements, although there was no lack of reflection in the first one, peering into the music’s interior, moments of privacy amid the public ceremony. Levit was very accommodating of the orchestra, paring his sound to almost nothing at times, without losing character, and the result was a bountiful amount of detail that tends to be obscured. The LSO and Fabio Luisi offered a hefty accompaniment and also one that was lucid, and the lead-in to the Finale was particularly suspenseful before Levit energised what can be a rondo too much and was fiercely sustained here without overlooking light and shade. It was though the Adagio where the most magical things happened, inward to a degree rarely heard, music that can seem moon-lit was here autumnal and enchanting if with a melancholy side. As an encore Levit gave a subtle and poetic rendition of Für Elise (WoO59), Beethoven at his most charming.
The Brahms opened in spacious and singing style, then came to life as if out of slumber, and had got even faster by the end of the exposition. For once, overlooking the repeat would have been unusually welcome, but Luisi went back and did it all again, if slightly less discontinuously this time, but it set in motion a reading of unconvincing tempo changes – hasty, slowing, droopy, out of kilter – and the livelier parts of the third movement were mechanical. The Finale, quite trenchant as such but also becoming somnambulant, had as the coda beckoned a sudden increase of speed that was incongruous. Although the LSO was hard-working and efficient, it was rarely inspired, and only the slow movement escaped Luisi’s fidgety approach – dignified, played with eloquence and rather poignant.