Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Op. 10/1, 2, 3; Op. 13 (Pathétique)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Op. 10/1, 2, 3; Op. 13 (Pathétique)
PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 3100
Two fiery Sonatas in C minor frame the second instalment of András Schiff’s Beethoven cycle. Drawing an obvious emotional link between the two works, he characterises the outer movements of the Op. 10 No. 1 with headstrong immediacy. No doubt this approach would sound very exciting in the concert hall, but the combination of the resonant acoustic of the Tonhalle Zurich and the clangorous tone of Fabbrini piano conspires to make some of the louder passages sound unnecessarily aggressive. This is a pity because throughout the Sonata Schiff demonstrates a quite miraculous command of voicing, drawing out subtle threads from the inner parts that are not always so audible in other recordings.

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Schiff’s Pathétique is equally stimulating with a particularly fine sense of tempo proportion between the slow and fast sections of the first movement. Some may question his provocative decision to play the slow introduction when repeating the exposition (especially as no such indication exists in the earliest published edition), but I would argue that there are logical structural reasons for doing this.

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While there is much to admire in Schiff’s renditions of the two C minor Sonatas, the most spontaneous playing on this disc comes in the larger D major Sonata where Schiff combines impetuosity with an imaginative quicksilver sense of humour in the outer movements, whilst finding repose and nobility in the Largo e mesto. Nonetheless for the Op. 10 set, Richard Goode’s 1990s recordings offer an even more incisive degree of interpretative insight, as well as a recording that avoids stridency at higher dynamic levels. Erik Levi