If a new Beethoven disc offers neither excitement nor revelation,
it shouldn’t be offered at all. Luckily, the young Vassily Primakov’s
first recital for Bridge succeeds on both counts. He may prove
to be one of the new players worth hearing, not only in this repertoire
but in everything to which he puts his nimble fingers.
new voice on the American music scene, Primakov is garnering
praise for his playing of the romantic repertoire, and in fact,
it is the two later sonatas in which he fares best. Often,
this phlegmatic Russian pianist’s greatest strengths are also
his weaknesses. He is capable of immense energy, and the Allegro
movement of his “Appassionata” benefits from hairpin dynamic
shifts and from the excitement he generates with every gesture.
However, Primakov’s performance of the op. 14 is often overwrought,
especially noticeable in the first movement. He brings out
every motif with stunning clarity, but here, his penchant for
sudden dynamic changes, not to mention some excessive rubato,
obscures the music’s architecture. Paul Lewis’s recent recording
for Harmonia Mundi presents a much more even-handed approach
to this charming and witty masterpiece.
All that said, Primakov’s op. 111 is almost beyond
reproach; his romanticism is completely justified, allowing
fresh insight into Beethoven’s final sonata. The portentous
C octave, coming out of the introduction’s final low trill,
is delivered with the devastating force achieved by very few.
Indeed, the entire first theme teems with sublimated energy,
Primakov’s arching ascent and descent creating the spine-tingling
suspense possible from only the most controlled virtuosity.
His second movement, the epic variation set, is beautifully
proportioned, highlighting its unorthodox and highly inventive
structure. Only Anatol Ugorsky’s DG recording presents such
a wealth of contrapuntal detail in the later variations, every
nuance and gesture being rendered clearly, but Primakov never
exhibits his elder countryman’s eccentricities of tempo and
There is such a sense of discovery permeating these
highly charged performances that even the less successful moments
afford fascination. If Primakov achieves the mature reflection
of a master such as Emil Gilels or Sviatoslav Richter, then
he may become one of the most important Beethoven interpreters
of his generation. On the evidence of this offering, his future
see also Review
by Tony Haywood