Piano Sonatas, Vols 8 & 9: Nos 27-32
Boris Giltburg (piano)
Naxos 9.70314 80:42 mins / Naxos 9.70315 66:56 mins
Boris Giltburg prefaces his liner notes by telling us why this project came about; it began, he says, as a personal exploration driven by curiosity. But in joining forces with the producer Stewart French, a filmmaker, he found himself looking at the oeuvre anew.
Stewart’s film technique combines elements from a live performance with those of a studio recording; as Giltburg explains it, the recordings presented in these albums ‘are those very films, stripped of their visual element, but hopefully preserving the spirit and atmosphere of the circumstances under which they were produced.’
In listening, I’m not sure this elaborate rationale has resulted in anything fundamentally different from a routine patched audio recording. That said, these interpretations are enormously pleasurable and at times revelatory.
Always clean and never showy, Giltburg’s pianism is ideally suited to late Beethoven, and his touch throughout is light and flexible. One of his revelations comes with the Mit Lebhaftigkeit of Op. 90, which Giltburg gently probes to reveal unexpected moments of mystery. Another is his inspired account of the first movement of Op. 101, which he appropriately likens to a flower opening in the morning dew. His Hammerklavier lacks fury at the outset but magnificently makes up for that in the closing fugue, where his easy control of the tumult of voices is impressive; in his hands the Adagio becomes rapt and dreamlike. There are no histrionics in his treatment of Op. 109, and none in the variations of Op. 111 – no fashionable excursions into jazz – while Op. 110 comes over with a plainness and sincerity which warms the heart.