Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Opp. 2/1, 10/2, 26, 27/1, 31/1, 53 (Waldstein), 109, 110 & 111

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Opp. 2/1, 10/2, 26, 27/1, 31/1, 53 (Waldstein), 109, 110 & 111
PERFORMER: Rudolf Serkin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SM3K 64490 ADD(3 discs)
Rudolf Serkin was always the most self-critical of artists, and it comes as no surprise to learn that he declined even to listen to the edited versions of no fewer than five of the Beethoven sonatas presented here, feeling that he could have played them better. Of these five, all but one were recorded as long ago as 1970, and they are now being issued for the first time, with the enthusiastic approval of his pianist son, Peter Serkin.

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Rudolf Serkin is not, perhaps, a pianist to whom one turns for tonal beauty and refinement. Such moments as the serene first variation in the finale of Op. 109 show that he could not ‘float’ a melody; and there is a general air of gruffness about the music-making, which is compounded by the occasionally obtrusive sounds of heavy breathing and foot-stamping. What is so refreshing about these performances is their honesty and humility: I found them deeply affecting. Of the hitherto unknown recordings, only Op. 27/1 (the lesser known companion to the Moonlight) disappoints. Here, Serkin seems curiously unresponsive to the opening movement’s kaleidoscopic changes of mood, and his finale is rather lacking in sparkle. Misha Donat