Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol. 3
The Hammerklavier, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 29, Op. 106, has been something of a lifetime preoccupation for François-Frédéric Guy. He has previously recorded this most imposing of all Beethoven’s sonatas twice, and on the last occasion, some eight years ago, he described it as ‘the guiding thread of my artistic endeavours and the centre of gravity around which my repertoire is structured’. This new ‘live’ version is an altogether enthralling experience. The Hammerklavier is Beethoven’s only sonata to carry authentic metronome markings, and if Guy’s account of the opening doesn’t quite match the almost impossibly fast indicated speed, it conveys all the energy and momentum the music requires. The great slow movement is slightly more flowing than it was in Guy’s previous recording, but it captures the music’s profound melancholy no less movingly; while the concluding fugue is an appropriately hair-raising tour de force.
Scarcely less impressive are Beethoven’s last Sonatas, Opp. 109-111, with Guy’s account of the Arioso dolente from the middle work of the triptych particularly affecting, and the slow variations that conclude Op. 111 played in an atmosphere of deep serenity. Only one or two moments of the variation finale from the E major Sonata Op. 109 find Guy a little hasty, in particular the fugal fifth variation.
Curiously, Guy is less at home in Beethoven’s more straightforward first group of Sonatas, Op. 2. This is angry young man’s music, and Guy sometimes underplays the dynamic contrasts, with their characteristic stabbing accents. In the spasmodic opening of the A major Sonata, Op. 2 No. 2, he is insufficiently quiet; while, conversely, the central portion of the movement sounds too refined, with the dynamic level far below the unremitting fortissimo Beethoven asks for. But the set as a whole is an impressive achievement, more than worth acquiring for the splendid performances of the later works alone.