WORKS: Piano Sonata in C, Op. 1; Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5
PERFORMER: Eric Le Van (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-946 (distr. DI Music)
These are powerfully impressive performances by an unfamiliar pianist (to me, anyway) with a head on his shoulders which seems to be a match for his very capable fingers. Carefully considered, indeed meticulously thought-out, and with an impressive grasp of large-scale structure, they achieve at the same time a real sense of spontaneity and unforced vigour, as befits these two magnificent works. The sound is occasionally a bit rough-hewn, but it could be argued that that suits this particular music fine.
Le Van is most impressive when symphonic in outlook (his interesting booklet note confirms that he’s given a lot of thought to the implications of Schumann’s famous reference to these works as ‘veiled symphonies’), but there are times, for my tastes, when structural points are made at some cost to the beauty and immediacy of some of Brahms’s most deeply felt and touching music (the coda to the F minor’s slow movement, for instance). If these are not ideal performances – and how many are? – they are nevertheless of commanding quality. Le Van provides much food for thought while never becoming mannered or overtly didactic – a neat balance achieved by relatively few. This is the only recording known to me which pairs these two sonatas (the strongest of Brahms’s three for the piano) and as such can be recommended without hesitation. But it’ll be a long time before anyone can topple Richter in the Op. 1 and Lupu in the Op. 5 from their pedestals in my own personal pantheon. Jeremy Siepmann