Never try to second-guess the Russian-German pianist Igor Levit. Love and death are the twin flames of his new double album. Contrasting with the polychromatic presentation of last year’s On DSCH, his new Tristan (Sony) has monochrome sobriety. The unifying theme is the Tristan legend made famous by Wagner and explored by others, in homage and inspiration.
As you might expect, Levit’s choices are daring, one disc largely occupied by Hans Werner Henze’s six-movement Tristan (1974). This neglected work, full of allusion and tender sensuality, is written for piano, electronic tapes and orchestra, here the Leipzig Gewandhaus conducted by Franz Welser-Möst. Bridging the Henze with Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde (arr. Zoltán Kocsis), Levit shines light on the dissonant enigma that is the Adagio from Mahler’s 10th symphony, in the transcription by Ronald Stevenson. Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No 11, “Harmonies du soir”, with its rippling, harp-like left hand and song-like right-hand chords, bursts into radiance then subsides to a shadowy, tranquil ending, the disc’s perfect finale.
Look out, too, for Levit’s book, coming soon, with Florian Zinnecker: House Concert (Polity), based on the lockdown concerts Levit played from his Berlin flat, winning an avid audience around the world.
As artist-in-residence of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, the American composer John Adams (b 1947) has worked closely with this orchestra and its conductor Paavo Järvi, helping them prepare his music. The result, called simply John Adams (Alpha Classics), features four contrasting works: Slonimsky’s Earbox (1995), pulsating and vivid, written for the opening of Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall; My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003), the poignant triptych evoking Adams’s New England marching-band childhood; Tromba Lontana (1986), a short, noisy fanfare; and Lollapalooza (1995), explosive and rhythmic, written as a 40th birthday present for Simon Rattle, first performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. This short compendium is an ideal starting point for any listener wanting to sample this prolific composer’s rich orchestral vocabulary.
Or tune in tomorrow night (Sunday), 10pm UK time, to watch Adams’s latest opera, Antony and Cleopatra, in a livestream (£23.50) from San Francisco Opera, where it was premiered earlier this month.