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Bach, Beethoven, Rzewski Box set

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Box set, October 30, 2015
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Editorial Reviews

Following his landmark recordings, "Beethoven - The Late Piano Sonatas" and "Bach - Partitas", both of which has won him international acclaim, Igor Levit is now tackling another three major works: Bach's Goldberg Variations, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, and Frederic Rzewski's Variations on "The People United Will Never Be Defeated".

It is testament to Igor Levit's invention and the command of his repertoire that in one release he is able to combine arguably two of history's greatest sets of variations for the keyboard, complete alongside a classic of late 20th century piano music by contemporary composer Frederic Rzewski.

Levit comes with great pedigree when it comes to recording the works of Bach and Beethoven, with his 2013 Beethoven disc winning him the BBC Music Magazine Newcomer of the Year 2014 Award, the Royal Philharmonic Society's Young Artist Award 2014 and the ECHO 2014 for Solo Recording of the Year. His second recording, J.S. Bach's Six Partitas in 2014, was Gramophone's Disc of the Month.

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Aria
  2. Var. 1 a 1 Clav.
  3. Var. 2 a 1 Clav.
  4. Var. 3 - Canone all' Unisono a 1 Clav.
  5. Var. 4 a 1 Clav.
  6. Var. 5 a 1 ovvero 2 Clav.
  7. Var. 6 - Canone alla Seconda a 1 Clav.
  8. Var. 7 a 1 ovvero 2 Clav. Al tempo di Giga
  9. Var. 8 a 2 Clav.
  10. Var. 9 - Canone alla Terza a 1 Clav.
  11. Var. 10 - Fughetta a 1 Clav.
  12. Var. 11 a 2 Clav.
  13. Var. 12 - Canone alla Quarta
  14. Var. 13 a 2 Clav.
  15. Var. 14 a 2 Clav.
  16. Var. 15 - Canone alla Quinta a 1 Clav. Andante
  17. Var. 16 - Ouverture a 1 Clav.
  18. Var. 17 a 2 Clav.
  19. Var. 18 - Canone alla Sesta a 1 Clav.
  20. Var. 19 a 1 Clav.
  21. Var. 20 a 2 Clav.
  22. Var. 21 - Canone alla Settima
  23. Var. 22 a 1 Clav. Alla breve
  24. Var. 23 a 2 Clav.
  25. Var. 24 - Canone all' Ottava a 1 Clav.
  26. Var. 25 a 2 Clav.
  27. Var. 26 a 2 Clav.
  28. Var. 27 - Canone alla Nona a 2 Clav.
  29. Var. 28 a 2 Clav.
  30. Var. 29 a 1 ovvero 2 Clav.
  31. Var. 30 - Quodlibet a 1 Clav.
  32. Aria da capo

Disc: 2

  1. Tema. Vivace
  2. Var. 1 - Alla Marcia maestoso
  3. Var. 2 - Poco allegro
  4. Var. 3 - L'istesso tempo
  5. Var. 4 - Un poco più vivace
  6. Var. 5 - Allegro vivace
  7. Var. 6 - Allegro ma non troppo e serioso
  8. Var. 7 - Un poco più allegro
  9. Var. 8 - Piu vivace
  10. Var. 9 - Allegro pesante e risoluto
  11. Var. 10 - Presto
  12. Var. 11 - Allegretto
  13. Var. 12 - Un poco più moto
  14. Var. 13 - Vivace
  15. Var. 14 - Grave e maestoso
  16. Var. 15 - Presto scherzando
  17. Var. 16 - Allegro
  18. Var. 17
  19. Var. 18 - Poco moderato
  20. Var. 19 - Presto
  21. Var. 20 - Andante
  22. Var. 21 - Allegro con brio, Meno allegro, Tempo I
  23. Var. 22 - Allegro molto (alla "Notte e giorno faticar" di Mozart)
  24. Var. 23 - Allegro assai
  25. Var. 24 - Fughetta. Andante
  26. Var. 25 - Allegro
  27. Var. 26
  28. Var. 27 - Vivace
  29. Var. 28 - Allegro
  30. Var. 29 - Adagio ma non troppo
  31. Var. 30 - Andante, sempre cantabile
  32. Var. 31 - Largo, molto espressivo
  33. Var. 32 - Fuga. Allegro, Poco adagio
  34. Var. 33 - Tempo di Menuetto moderato (ma non tirarsi dietro)

Disc: 3

  1. Thema. With determination
  2. Var. 1 - Weaving, delicate but firm
  3. Var. 2 - With firmness
  4. Var. 3 - Slightly slower, with expressive nuances
  5. Var. 4 - Marcato, with determination
  6. Var. 5 - Dreamlike, frozen, a little slower, Tempo
  7. Var. 6 - Same tempo as beginning, Slower, Tempo, Slower
  8. Var. 7 - Tempo (Lightly, impatiently)
  9. Var. 8 - With agility, not too much pedal, crisp
  10. Var. 9 - Evenly
  11. Var. 10 - Comodo, recklessly
  12. Var. 11 - Tempo I. Like fragments of an absent melody, in strict time
  13. Var. 12
  14. Var. 13
  15. Var. 14 - A bit faster, optimistically
  16. Var. 15 - Flexible, like an improvisation
  17. Var. 16 - Same tempo as preceding, with fluctuations, much pedal, expansive, with a victorious feeling
  18. Var. 17 - Left hand strictly. Right hand freely, roughly in space
  19. Var. 18
  20. Var. 19 - With energy
  21. Var. 20 - Crisp, precise
  22. Var. 21 - Relentless, uncompromising
  23. Var. 22 - Very expressionate
  24. Var. 23 - As fast as possible, with some rubato
  25. Var. 24
  26. Var. 25
  27. Var. 26 - In a militant manner
  28. Var. 27 - Tenderly, with a hopeful expression, Cadenza, Fiercely
  29. Var. 28
  30. Var. 29
  31. Var. 30
  32. Var. 31
  33. Var. 32
  34. Var. 33
  35. Var. 34
  36. Var. 35
  37. Var. 36 - Improvisation
  38. Thema. Tempo I


Product Details

  • Performer: Igor Levit
  • Conductor: Igor Levit
  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Rzewski
  • Audio CD (October 30, 2015)
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • Run Time: 194 minutes
  • ASIN: B0128ZEVDG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,550 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 9, 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Here is the absolutely brilliant pianist Igor Levit on playing variations: “I regard variations as travel books, accounts of journeys ... of people who set off on their journey as one person but are ... someone else by the time they arrive at their destination. The quicker the change and the higher the frequency, the better. I need this. I need these colorful and varied characters."

Variations aren‘t something you get tired of, partly because you don’t have time to grow used to them as they move from one approach to the next in minutes –sometimes less than a minute—offering vividly contrasting refigurings of basic themes. This collection illustrates the appeal of this form with bells on, coupling the familiar but challenging Goldberg Variations of Bach (originally composed for harpsichord but legitimated for piano as well since Glen Gould’s masterful 1955 recording of them) with the almost equally well known variations on a waltz of Diabelli by Beethoven and the virtually unknown modernist suite, The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, thirty-six variations on a 1970s Chilean revolutionary song. The Goldberg Variations ride over a persistent bass line, and include numbers composed according to the strictest canonic methods. Beethoven has fun tearing apart and reconfiguring what was originally a hackneyed melody composed by composer and publisher Anton Diabelli: the result is virtuoso music with lots of jokes hidden in it. The Rzewski piece is as idiosyncratic as its composer, who studied with such legends as Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions, performed live improvises music on synthesizer in the 1970s with avant garde jazz men Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy, and has made a name for himself over more than four decades for his difficult-to-categorize demanding-to-play compositions.
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Let me start by saying that I specifically requested the opportunity to review this October, 2015 release because I was pleased and fascinated to see this representation of three major masterworks of the large variation form included in a single collection. To my knowledge this is the first time that these three works have been represented in a single release.

Variation form is one of the staples of the composer's arsenal of techniques for well over 400 years now but the form is most commonly used as one technique in one of several movements of a larger work. Consequently these types of variations generally last a few minutes. A favorite example is the variations movement from Schubert's "Trout" Quintet, a set of variations on his song, "Die Forelle" (trout in English) which subsequently lends the title to the entire work for piano quintet. This variation movement runs about 7 minutes or so in performance. The Goldberg Variations (1741) can run up to 2 hours if one includes all the repeats but generally performances take about an hour.

So, along comes Johann Sebastian Bach who is commissioned by one Count Herman Karl von Keyserling (1697-1764) to compose some music for harpsichord (the predominant keyboard instrument of the day) to be performed by his personal musician Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756) to aid the count's insomnia. The original intent apparently was to have the player perform one or two of said variations as a sleep-inducing remedy upon the Count's request. The work, using a brief Sarabande from the Bach's own Anna Magdalena Notebook collection of pieces, has since taken the performer's name as the Goldberg Variations.
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Levit had already established his credentials as a master performer of both Bach and Beethoven in his earlier releases. This variation collection takes his sensitivity and intelligence to another level. I have long loved the Goldberg ' s of Gould and Schiff (both from both) among many others. Levit has the structure, sequence and sorority that reveals new insights. I have over 15 Diabelli's in my collection and stream others as they appear. Levit constantly surprises with further insight, particularly into Beethoven's wit and depth. His was my first exposure to the Rzewski. I expected to dismiss the work's inclusion with the other epic works. I'm still learning it but my early exposure is surprisingly positive and I give Levit credit for advancing it.
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. . .One of these things just doesn't belong.

What an awesome idea to have three monumental theme and variation pieces from three different eras in one set. The problem is that the Rzewski is a dud. Sorry, but that’s the impression I get when the Rzewski is compared to the Bach and the Beethoven. What’s that you say? It’s not fair to dump on the Rzewski just because it’s not in the same league with the masterpieces of Bach and Beethoven? Well, that’s the point. If you are going to put together a trio of theme and variation masterpieces that includes the Goldbergs and the Diabellis, you had better find a third work that’s worthy of those two, and the Rzewski just doesn’t cut it. Maybe there is nothing else that can. The closest match I can think of is Pictures at an Exhibition, but that’s not a proper theme and variations. Even so, that would have been a better choice. The Rzewski should have been sold separately.

Notwithstanding the above, and without waiver thereof, I recommend this set for all fans of the Bach and Beethoven works, except, of course, for the Glenn Gould fans out there (and you know who you are!). I expect Levit will make Gould fans cringe. If you like Levit’s Bach Partitas (I love them) you will like his Goldbergs. I don’t think they displace Perahia and Hewitt, but they are certainly worthy of anyone’s collection that includes those two. By the way, I also highly recommend Tharaud’s Goldbergs-- they are really growing on me.

Levit’s Beethoven Diabelli Variations remind me of Paul Lewis. They are smooth, slick, and more tame than what may be considered the more authentic rough edged passion of Richter or Sokolov.
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