Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 16; Piano Sonata No. 17; Piano Sonata No. 18; Piano Sonata No. 19; Piano Sonata No. 20; Piano Sonata No. 21; Piano Sonata No. 22; Piano Sonata No. 23; Piano Sonata No. 24; Piano Sonata No. 25; Piano Sonata No. 26

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 16; Piano Sonata No. 17; Piano Sonata No. 18; Piano Sonata No. 19; Piano Sonata No. 20; Piano Sonata No. 21; Piano Sonata No. 22; Piano Sonata No. 23; Piano Sonata No. 24; Piano Sonata No. 25; Piano Sonata No. 26
PERFORMER: Kun-Woo Paik (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6909
Kun-Woo Paik can toss off the most fearsome pieces of Liszt as though they were child’s play, but on the evidence of this new recording his credentials as a Beethoven player are rather more dubious. He’s at his best in the composer’s more innocent side, where there’s no temptation to show off his virtuosity: the Op. 79 Sonatine, and the two little sonatas Op. 49 are all attractively done, and there’s no shortage of warmth and lyricism, either, in the opening movement of the radiant F sharp major, Op. 78. But elsewhere there are some spectacular misinterpretations – most bizarre among them the finale of the two-movement Sonata Op. 54. It’s a gently rippling Allegretto with a coda in a quicker tempo, but Paik plays the whole thing as a furious headlong presto which has nothing to do with the piece as Beethoven conceived it.

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The aggressive side of Paik’s playing – exacerbated by a closely-balanced recording – also mars the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas, with the finale of the latter, in particular, terribly fast and relentless. And for some reason Paik seems to think the Appassionata’s opening bars constitute a slow introduction. I could go on, but it’s better to turn to a more natural Beethoven pianist – to Richard Goode, for example, whose very well recorded cycle is far closer to the spirit of the music. Misha Donat