Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 2/1, 2, 3

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Mendelssohn Schubert
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Op. 2/1, 2, 3
PERFORMER: Gerhard Oppitz
CATALOGUE NO: CD 98.202
With his first group of piano sonatas Beethoven made his presence as a new and different voice very clearly felt. There is a lot of Haydn in these works – they are dedicated to the older master; but after a few bars of any one movement there are unmistakable signs of the young genius determined to shock and impress. Occasionally one feels the music is making gestures towards novelty rather than being genuinely new, only to come across a passage of such originality as to feel ashamed at having been tempted to put the composer in his place.

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Probably Gerhard Oppitz has the measure of these works, but he has been betrayed by Hänssler’s engineers. He plays a Steinway piano manufactured in Bayreuth, but one would hardly guess that from the sound. Play the disc from the start and you will suspect that you are listening to a fortepiano, or anyway an instrument recorded in an exceptionally large bathroom. What is even more perplexing is that the acoustic is by no means consistent. A fair proportion of the disc sounds perfectly fine, and then we are in the bathroom again, losing fistfuls of notes in an impressionist wash of noise. Oppitz may also be to blame, sometimes, for over-pedalling, but he does good things too, without being ever in the first rank in this extremely crowded field. There are surprisingly few single disc versions of Op. 2, but Louis Lortie’s on Chandos is the current best choice. Michael Tanner