Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4: in A flat, Op. 26; in D, Op. 28; in E minor, Op. 90

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Bridge
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4: in A flat, Op. 26; in D, Op. 28; in E minor, Op. 90
PERFORMER: Garrick Ohlsson (piano)


When this series began two years ago I gave it a warm welcome as the most distinguished start to a complete cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas I have heard for many years, despite my warm admiration for Paul Lewis, Stephen Kovacevch and others. Certainly it would be easy to be seduced by the recorded sound, which is warm, vivid and lucid, and enables Garrick Ohlsson to get just the kind of depth that he wants. But these renderings would survive in far less good sound than Bridge awards him. As a pupil and disciple of Claudio Arrau, Ohlsson cultivates a richness of tone which some listeners might find too Brahmsian. Indeed it would be if his playing were as mannered as Arrau’s sometimes was towards the end of his life. But besides the depth, Ohlsson plays crisply, and is never in danger of giving this music airs that it doesn’t want to have. Most of the seven sonatas on this pair of discs are not among the more portentous of the series. The earlier ones have a very clear indebtedness to Haydn, though Beethoven’s humour and shock tactics sometimes exceed even the older master’s. Almost violent dynamic contrasts are frequent, but Ohlsson takes them as far as is idiomatic but no further. Even more important, there are no ‘bridge passages’ in these performances, everything is melodic or dramatic. For the first six sonatas I had no criticisms at all. But finally, with the sublime Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, though the tempo of its second and last movement, I felt that there was too finicky an attention to detail, that Ohlsson was making points as Arrau lapsed into doing. Let’s hope that it is no sign of things to come, for the rest is the most honest, immediate playing one could ever hope to hear. Michael Tanner