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Beethoven: Hammerklavier Sonata; 15 Variations etc

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano) (Pentatone)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Piano Sonata No. 29 ‘Hammerklavier’; 15 Variations and Fugue ‘Eroica’
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186 724   66:49 mins

There are some recorded performances so remarkable that to praise them seems insolent. This recording of Beethoven’s largest, longest piano sonata is among that tiny group. Pierre-Laurent Aimard is perhaps primarily known as an exponent of recent music, but then one could say, adapting a related remark of Stravinsky’s, that the Hammerklavier Sonata is forever contemporary. Certainly in an account as striking as this it seems to belong to no period of history, being more adventurous and challenging even than Beethoven’s other late masterworks.

What distinguishes Aimard’s account – this goes, too, for the far from meagre ‘filler’, the exuberant Eroica Variations – is that it is free from idiosyncrasy, so that one spends no energy in noting his negotiation of the huge spans of three of the movements, but remains wholly absorbed in Beethoven’s shocking and alarming creation. Fortunately the recording copes with the dynamic extremes, from the explosive opening chords through the long lamentation of the slow movement, and even the insane crashes and clashes of the final fugue.

Michael Tanner