May 27, 2022
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Eight years in the past, a younger pianist made his New York debut with a brazen program of Beethoven’s last sonatas.

Child-faced and carrying a bow tie, Igor Levit, then 27, took the stage at the Park Avenue Armory’s intimate Board of Officers Room and proved that age is not any obstacle in decoding a few of the wisest and most difficult music in the keyboard repertory. “A serious new pianist has arrived,” the critic Anthony Tommasini wrote of that night.

Since then, every return engagement has had the air of an vital occasion: Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations with the artist Marina Abramovic at the Armory’s drill corridor, recitals with premieres at Carnegie Corridor that started in its chamber-size Zankel area earlier than moving to its foremost auditorium.

Levit, who lives in Berlin, hasn’t introduced his most madcap programming to the metropolis — his important, standard-setting tackle Ronald Stevenson’s “Passacaglia on DSCH” or his flip in Ferruccio Busoni’s extravagant Piano Concerto — however he has graduated from newcomer to New York fixture.

One vital debut remained, and it got here on Friday: his first look with the New York Philharmonic.

Now 35, extra scruffy than easy and buying and selling his bow tie for an off-the-cuff black shirt, he joined the orchestra at Carnegie in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. It was a kind of evenings — agonizingly, only one efficiency — that left you questioning whether or not the Philharmonic had discovered an artist to maintain on pace dial for future seasons.

Holding his personal towards the orchestra’s attribute muscularity, Levit provided counterpoint in an expressive contact, an instinctual sense of form and a present for navigating the nuances of a bit that retains one foot in the Classical period and the different in the Romanticism of its time.

Like Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, additionally in D minor, the Brahms begins with a protracted orchestral introduction earlier than the soloist’s softly singing entrance — ardour turning right into a plea. The Philharmonic, led by Jaap van Zweden, its music director, sounded extra aggressive than ardent, and crisp the place one other ensemble may need been grand.

Van Zweden’s studying didn’t essentially register as problematic till it was introduced into reduction by Levit’s arrival, which achieved extra pressure with much less power. His solos had been just like sonatas of their intimacy and breadth of expression (a sensibility that reached its top together with his encore, a sonorous but serene “Nun Komm’ der Heiden Heiland,” transcribed by Busoni from Bach). At the keyboard he was able to conjuring not solely thunder, notably in the climax of the first motion, but additionally the troubling calm that may precede it and, as in the Adagio, one thing like the light parting of clouds that follows.

The place soloist and orchestra most aligned was in the Rondo finale; Levit acknowledged the first theme briskly, exactly, and the Philharmonic responded in sort. Extra right here than elsewhere, van Zweden allowed the rating to talk for itself, to construct naturally towards its joyous D main coda. The piano half wraps up a number of measures earlier than the finish, however Levit’s ability and stage presence had been nicely established by then — and the viewers reacted, the second he moved to bow, with a swift standing ovation.

The Philharmonic would have its second, too, after intermission, in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. And if this work prompts devices like lights on a switchboard, then there was not a uninteresting bulb on Friday. With brasses clear and heroic; winds eloquent and filled with character; and strings talking as a single unit, this was an ensemble in wonderful kind. In the fourth motion “Intermezzo interrotto,” particularly, the gamers discovered a sensitivity absent in the Brahms: lush in its folk-like melody, animated in the nightmarishly parodic interruption and, in the return of the people tune, movingly delicate, with Dvorakian wistfulness.

As he did in Brahms’s Rondo, van Zweden led the Bartok Finale with a restraint that, after merely getting via the virtuosity of the breakneck tempo and fugal writing, made manner for an natural accumulation towards a lingeringly resonant last chord. It was a glimpse of an method he doesn’t take typically — however that will be welcome, like every look by Levit, with the Philharmonic going ahead.

New York Philharmonic

Carried out on Friday at Carnegie Corridor, Manhattan.

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