This is the first entry of Murray
McLachlan’s traversal of the Beethoven
Piano Sonatas for Dunelm Records. It
represents a decided departure from
the 20th century repertoire
that dominates his many other recordings.
Needless to say, McLachlan is entering
a field of fierce competition ranging
from legends such as Schnabel and Richter
to future legends including Pollini
On the basis of this
first volume, McLachlan’s cycle promises
to be highly rewarding without staking
out any particular niche in the catalogues.
His are fine mainstream performances
idiomatic of the composer’s soundworld.
Tempos are well within the usual boundaries,
rhythmic patterns are those we expect,
and McLachlan always conveys the appropriate
Most appealing is the
rugged nature of McLachlan’s music-making.
He eschews any trace of suaveness and
the cosmopolitan environment, giving
listeners a taste of basic humanity
and primitive urges. His approach, one
that I feel corresponds to Beethoven’s
personality, is often compelling and
steeped in the juices of life. Whether
it is a playful melody, poignant refrain
or aggressive declaration, McLachlan
nails each quality in convincing fashion.
Textures are lean, and the piano sound
is placed slightly toward the rear of
the soundstage. However, McLachlan’s
tension is admirable, and power is amply
provided when necessary.
Those of you familiar
with Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas will
notice from the heading that the program
of Volume 1 features Beethoven’s playful
and exuberant side except for the "Pathétique"
where desperation and tremendous tension
often reside. McLachlan’s performance
of the "Pathétique"
is an excellent one. In the outer movements,
McLachlan offers abundant excitement
as he conveys Beethoven’s most aggressive
utterances, while the 2nd
Movement Adagio is attractively poignant
and delivered with confidence. McLachlan
does not whip up the primitive turbulence
offered by Annie Fischer on Volume 2
of her Beethoven series on Hungaroton,
but he isn’t far behind.
The two Opus 14 Sonatas
were composed shortly after the "Pathétique"
and dedicated to the amateur pianist
Baroness de Braun. Both works are primarily
of good cheer and are compact and exuberant.
The Sonata in E major begins with a
good natured Allegro in sonata-form
followed by the 2nd Movement
Allegretto offering fine mystery and
lilting phrases; the work concludes
with the 3rd Movement Rondo
that is quite exhilarating and demonstrative.
McLachlan is consistently slower than
Rudolf Buchbinder in his exceptional
version for Teldec. The slower tempo
pays some dividends in enhancing the
Allegretto’s mysterious nature, but
it diminishes the exuberance of the
Rondo. Overall, I remain faithful to
Buchbinder, but McLachlan is a fine
McLachlan also does
well by the zesty Sonata in G major
that has a wonderful 2nd
movement Andante dominated by broken
march-like chordal patterns. I must
admit that Emil Gilels on Deutsche Grammophon
can’t be beat for his superb sonorities
and balance of voice interaction, but
McLachlan delightfully captures the
work’s basic themes including the playful
nature of the 3rd movement
McLachlan plays the
remaining two piano sonatas in an invigorating
fashion, although he will not dislodge
current favorites. The Op. 78 Sonata
is in the two-movement form Beethoven
used for a few of his piano sonatas.
In each of them, one movement is relatively
spacious and lyrical while the other
is dynamic, sharper and more aggressive.
In the Op. 78 Sonata, the 2nd
movement Allegro vivace is particularly
impetuous and filled with surprise and
mischievous passages. McLachlan well
conveys these qualities, although he
does not muster the music’s excitement
as convincingly as Alfred Brendel’s
1994 version on Philips. In the "Les
Adieux" Sonata, which gives us
a Beethoven tribute to Archduke Rudolph,
McLachlan finds an attractive blend
of hard-driving momentum and lyricism
in the outer movements.
his program with the miniature Bagatelle
WoO 56. Although of little substance,
the piece does generate interest with
its contrapuntal devices and left-hand
Summing up, Volume
1 of Murray McLachlan’s survey of the
Beethoven Piano Sonatas represents a
fine effort fully competitive with most
other versions on the market. He uniformly
strikes the appropriate emotional moods
and does so with minimal use of the
pedals and a keen sense of Beethoven’s
view of the world. I would heartily
suggest investigation into McLachlan’s
series. Although there is nothing astounding
or revelatory to be found, the pianist
offers highly idiomatic performances
without any of the perfume often possessed
by other pianists in this repertoire.