Beethoven Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol.1: Sonatas Nos 1-10; Bagatelle in C minor, WoO 52
WORKS: Piano Sonatas
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN10720

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Most pianists who record the cycle of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas produce one disc at a time, with selected works from different periods in Beethoven’s career. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, whom we more readily associate with French repertoire, has jumped in at what many people regard as the shallow end, recording the first ten Sonatas in one go.

The results are striking. Not only is the First Sonata an original masterpiece, but all these works exist on an exalted level, even if they miss the passion of Beethoven’s middle period, and the depths and mysteries of his last works. They have their own depths, though these are often found outside the slow movements, in contrast to his later Sonatas.

Bavouzet’s performances are distinguished and virtuosic, but he does overemphasise the storminess of some passages, the results sounding perilously close to self-parody. The first movement of the Pathétique has been described as the first piece of music to be written for ten fingers and a lock of hair – and that’s how it comes across with Bavouzet. Some Wilhelm Kempff-like restraint is welcome in the passionate passages.

But Bavouzet is quite marvellous in the many quirky, violent and mischievous movements, and in the slow movements where he does not seek to be intensely expressive. Chandos has provided him with luscious recorded sound, which allows for plenty of air round the notes, so all told this is a most desirable set overall.

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Michael Tanner