Beethoven: Piano Sonatas: in C, Op. 2/3; in B flat, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: CPO
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: in C, Op. 2/3; in B flat, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)
PERFORMER: Markus Becker (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 777 239-2
Any performance of Beethoven’s largest and most intimidating sonata is bound to command attention from the outset with its challenging first theme. On this recording the effect is made more arresting, for good or ill, by the fact that Markus Becker is playing a fortepiano, in other words an early piano, this one a Steinway, but without the sumptuous fullness of tone we associate with that make. The top half of the keyboard here has a brittle brightness that is emphasised by the sheer volume of much of the work: not that Beethoven meant it to be easy listening, and he might well have welcomed this assault on the listener’s ears.

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Becker emphasises the aggression in the work by refusing to yield in the more lyrical sections of the first movement, or in the few bars of stunned respite in the hell-for-leather finale. Given the unremitting nature of so much of this onslaught, I don’t think it’s indulgent to relax the tempo a little, indeed the contrast makes the violence of the rest all the more impressive. In the slow movement, Beethoven’s largest in any form, Becker phrases broadly but rarely reduces the volume as much as he needs to: the effect is of desolation, where I feel there is more ambivalence between that and grief and even a hint of consolation. In the other sonata, the third of eethoven’s first set, the fortepiano adds to the impishness and energy, though I have heard more rhythmically subtle accounts. Michael Tanner