It must be a fluke, but within three years the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod became the birthplace of two of the most astounding pianists of the younger generation. What makes this coincidence even more remarkable is that Igor Levit (above right), 29, and Daniil Trifonov (above left), 25, could hardly be more different in musical character or sensibility.
Levit left Russia when he was eight and was largely trained in Germany. An obsessive perfectionist, mature beyond his years and highly analytical in his approach, he specialises in the intricacies of Bach, the intensities of late Beethoven and the rigours of the 20th-century repertory. His desire to break boundaries and challenge convention led the Los Angeles Times to state simply, “He is the future.”
Trifonov, on the other hand, was schooled in Moscow, and is a throwback to the age of Liszt and Rachmaninov. With a soulfully expressive face and theatrically extravagant gestures (he is prone to tossing his thick mop of hair about), Trifonov is the arch-Romantic, seemingly in love with everything he plays. A prodigious keyboard technique is the steel underpinning his poetic imagination: genius like his doesn’t function without hard graft.
Together these two charismatic superstars have set the world of classical music ablaze, sending audiences into ecstasies and inspiring critics to flurries of superlatives. This summer you can hear them both far from their city of birth at Tanglewood, America’s most popular classical music festival, situated in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. What is it about Nizhny Novgorod that made this magic? ~ RUPERT CHRISTIANSEN
Trifonov Solo recital Tanglewood, Aug 4th, Edinburgh, Aug 17th
Levit Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Tanglewood, Aug 14th
THE GROWING PAINS OF BOY KINGS
Some sing from the heart, others the head. Wild Beasts sing from the groin. The English indie band’s great subject is sex: they crow about getting laid and moan when they don’t. The group formed 14 years ago when they were still at school, and the lyrics from their early albums were full of the extravagant sensuality you’d expect of students who had just discovered Rabelais. But everyone has to grow up someday, and Wild Beasts’ visceral fifth album, Boy King, groans with their growing pains. On the way, their precocious pop has matured into a refreshingly honest depiction of masculinity. On the sinuous “Alpha Female”, Hayden Thorpe sings of the humility that comes with self-understanding (“I’m learning that I know the least”); on “2BU”, Tom Fleming describes how uncomfortable he is in his own skin. There’s still plenty of swagger – “Get My Bang” drips with libidinousness, the bass on “Big Cat” almost purrs with self-satisfaction – but their old cocksure machismo has been tempered by self-awareness. “Boy King” is a hard-won coming of age as wicked as it is wise. ~ CHARLIE MCCANN
Boy King released Aug 5th. European tour Jul 26th-Oct 29th
THE FORBIDDEN SOUND OF THE REVOLUTION
The accordion may seem an unlikely political symbol, yet, in the mid-20th century, it came to represent Cape Verde’s struggle for independence from the Portuguese. Funaná, a fast-paced dance music in which candid, often defiant lyrics are sung over the energetic croak of the accordion, was banned by the Portuguese colonial authorities in the years leading up to independence in 1975. Playing the music in public could lead to jail time, even torture. That didn’t stop Victor Tavares, better known as Bitori, from teaching himself how to play the instrument, and eventually becoming the genre’s most famous performer.
Bitori brought this entire history to bear when he recorded the captivating album Bitori Nha Bibinha in 1997, re-released this summer by the Analog Africa label as “Legend of Funaná: The Forbidden Music of The Cape Verde Islands”. It became an instant classic in Cape Verde, immortalising his ephemeral street music and taking the clubs by storm. In faster passages, the frenetic rasping of Bitori’s accordion is offset by the relaxed spoken vocals of Chando Graciosa, the young singer who played a crucial part in convincing Bitori to record. Propelled by a razor-sharp rhythm section, this is undeniably a pulsating party album, but it’s the lyrical melancholy at the heart of Bitori’s playing that will keep you coming back for more, after you’re all danced out. ~ FELIX BAZALGETTE
Bitori Portugal July 29th, Sweden July 30th-31st
To listen to a selection of songs from these pages, search “1843mag” on Spotify