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Beethoven – The Last Three Sonatas

Sunwook Kim (piano) (Accentus)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

The Last Piano Sonatas – Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111
Sunwook Kim (piano)
Accentus ACC 30527   68:03 mins

This disc is of sublime music, gloriously played, and it is one of those occasions when it seems superfluous to say much more. Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas, together with the two that precede them, and the Diabelli Variations, are the summit of his writing for the solo instrument. They are also, especially Op. 111, incredibly hard to play, both technically and interpretatively. Yet the number of magnificent recordings of them is large, with Igor Levit and Steven Osborne the most recent of the contenders – though the idea of competition at this level is vulgar. What Sunwook Kim brings to them, as he also does to the Hammerklavier, is an intimacy which has nothing to do with volume – though he has no trouble with Beethoven’s most boisterous outbursts – but with proportion. It’s an especially tricky matter in these works which take the amount of sound the keyboard can make to sudden, abrupt extremes.

While everyone agrees that these three works are among the most profound, only one of them has passages which manifest Beethoven’s trademark pain and conflict: that is Op. 110, where the last movement alternates a lively but serious fugue with passages marked ‘Sorrowful Song’, which do indeed sound vocal in Kim’s hands: the fugue wins, sailing to its conclusion with aplomb. But the summit is the second, last movement of Op. 111, where Beethoven’s late obsession with trills reaches a level which leaves you breathless, and never more so than in this performance, where Kim’s playing of the triple trills ranks with any version I have heard, ‘live’ or on record.


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Michael Tanner