Beethoven Piano Sonatas
This is an astounding disc. It contains some of the greatest piano playing I have ever heard, and the most profound interpretation of what is, for me, Beethoven’s greatest piano work, the Hammerklavier Sonata. Sviatoslav Richter begins this 1975 London concert with a superbly crisp account of the Third Sonata, Op. 2 No. 3. Every note is in place, not by any means to be taken for granted with him. In the last two movements, I have the irresistible image of his shaking the tumultuous cascades of notes out of his sleeve. Three of the sublime Op. 126 Bagatelles follow – characteristically, Richter never performed the other three of the set.
Then he gives a gigantic performance of the Hammerklavier, where for once the interpretation completely matches the work. He takes the first movement fast, but not too fast for every note to be articulated. The second movement is a miniature tornado and then the immense slow movement, Beethoven’s largest and greatest, is hypnotically intense and profound. The transition to the fugue – audience-shuffling here – is managed more persuasively than I have heard before, then the manic fugue itself is played with such destructive, demonic fury that I was surprised my CD player was still intact by the end. Pity the tapes are so hissy, which some might find discouraging from the start. But any musical soul will be grateful for the issue of this historic recital.