Classical review: RSNO/James Feddeck, Igor Levit, Edinburgh

Speak softly, and people will listen. That seemed to be the philosophy behind the astonishing performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto given by the young Russian-born pianist Igor Levit with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Russian-born pianist Igor Levit

RSNO/James Feddeck, Igor Levit (piano) - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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He’s one of the classical world hottest rising stars, recent winner of BBC Music Magazine’s 2014 newcomer award, and on the strength of his radically fresh, unpretentious approach to what’s something of a concerto warhorse, you could see what all the fuss is about.

It was a remarkably gentle, wide-eyed performance, never lacking inner strength but unafraid to linger as if discovering melodies for the first time, and played with touching sincerity and utter conviction. The bombast and bravado so often forced upon the Concerto were nowhere to be found – in Levit’s hands, for instance, the opening’s famously pounding chords were calmly placed with quiet assurance – and his singing tone and beautifully balanced phrasing were truly exceptional. It might have been a touch too reserved for some – and admittedly, the finale never really caught fire – but after Levit’s transformative account, you’d never hear the piece in the same way again.

The RSNO gave beautifully subtle, nuanced support, but elsewhere, under young US conductor James Feddeck standing in for an indisposed Santtu-Matias Rouvali, things were a bit more hit and miss. The concert opened with a punchy, characterful Stravinsky Circus Polka, but Feddeck’s account of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony felt too weighty to truly sparkle, and Stravinsky’s Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss made a rather unconvincingly understated climax.

Seen on 25.04.14