Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein) Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); Piano Sonatain E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 110

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: EMI Great Recordings of the Century
WORKS: Piano Sonata in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein) Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); Piano Sonatain E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 110
PERFORMER: Walter Gieseking (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 67585 2 ADD mono Reissue (1951, 1955)
These studio recordings were completed the year before Gieseking died aged only 60. He was never an emotional pianist, though he was prodigiously talented. He had a phenomenal memory and learnt quickly. He hated practising. If he had been less gifted he might have been a more sensitive and expressive artist. But these sonatas reveal, at best, an impersonal approach – as in the Appassionata – and at worst, simple boredom. Which is why Gieseking hurries in some of the final variations of Op. 109, defying Beethoven’s ‘non troppo’ in the fugal fifth variation and letting it run away with him. He could achieve unusually even balance in chords, as in the opening movement of Op. 110, and he shows phenomenal control of repeated notes in the Adagio sections of the finale – as far as the faded recording allows one to judge. Yet he could be careless, too, and the triplets in the middle movement of Op. 109 are not together. There are also smudges during the development section of the Waldstein’s first movement and occasional jerks with shifts of hand position. They wouldn’t matter if the performance had passion, but it has only aloofness to recommend it. Adrian Jack

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