Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6: No. 22 in F, Op. 54; No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78 (à Thérèse); No. 25 in G, Op. 79; No. 26 in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 6: No. 22 in F, Op. 54; No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78 (à Thérèse); No. 25 in G, Op. 79; No. 26 in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux)
PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 476 6187

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I’m a newcomer, I regret to say, to this series of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, but this disc has made me determined to catch up with the rest as soon as I can. Recorded ‘In concert’, according to the notes, there is absolutely no audience noise and no applause, though one would have thought that was required after such exhilarating accounts of some of Beethoven’s quirkiest works. The Op. 54 Sonata, for instance, contains a second, final movement which suggests an incredibly sophisticated parody of Minimalism, albeit avant la lettre. Its maddening split octaves, arpeggios and scales torment us, but with Beethoven (as opposed to Reich or Glass) in mind, at least we can be sure that it will not be long before the figuration stops. Three of these middle-period works are short, but what riches they deliver, and all abundantly and robustly realised by Schiff. The ‘big’ work here is the Appassionata, which I have come to dread for its banal slow movement, and though Schiff goes in for extremes of dynamics throughout the work, it sounds to me as if he is making a gallant but doomed attempt to rescue it from too-great familiarity. The first movement rolls grandly on, but do the manic outbursts need to be quite so keyboard-shattering? Elsewhere, Schiff maintains a good sense of proportion, but in Beethoven’s case that is still something electrifying and perpetually fresh. Michael Tanner