Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 1 in F Op 2 No 1 (1793-95)
Piano Sonata No 2 in A major Op 2 No 2 (1794-95)
Piano Sonata no 3 in C major Op 2 No 3 (1794-95)
Artur Schnabel (piano)
Recorded London 1933-34
NAXOS 8.110693 [66.26]


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Reputation can hang by a knife-edge. How would things stand with Schnabelís Beethoven had Rachmaninov accepted HMVís earlier offer to record the Sonatas? The Russianís Beethoven would have been of an entirely different character Ė digitally far more accurate and undoubtedly avoiding Schnabelís impulse toward extremes of tempo. Schnabelís Beethoven on record would have been confined to post-War and off-air recordings, assuming that HMV had offered the Concertos to Rachmaninov as well. That the loss of his Beethoven is one of the more grievous in recording history Ė he wanted too much money Ė nevertheless opened the door to another kind of now-canonical Beethoven interpretation, that of Artur Schnabel (is there really much correlation between those three successive titans of the twentieth century Germanic Beethoven school Ė the Scot Lamond in the twenties, Schnabel in the thirties and Schnabelís anointed successor, Kempff, in the early fifties?).

But here once again are the "32" in this new series from Naxos (in recent years we have had the cycle on EMI, Nuova Era and Pearl). Schnabel was notoriously nervous of the recording studios and the stories of his temperament are legion and yet awe is often not too strong a word for many of the performances he enshrined on disc, no matter how much that awe may on occasion be tempered by dissent. The Naxos series starts at the beginning, with the Op 2 sonatas. The F minor opens at quite a brittle and quick tempo, the Adagio Ė one long six-minute take by the way Ė is correspondingly slow, its galant Haydnesque style infused by Schnabelian intensity (and also serving notice of tempo extremes to come). The Minuet is deliberate and solemn whereas the finale is rhapsodic and quite fluent and fleet. The A major follows Ė not a uniformly successful performance. There are some accelerandos here that donít quite convince in the opening movement, and Schanbelís fingers arenít all there, the whole movement mysteriously hanging fire in a gruffly ungenerous way. The Largo appassionato is taken at a deliberate tempo, the "pizzicatos" of the left hand (Kempffís word) animating the arching melody above. The Scherzo is full of magical silences and high spirits and Schnabel certainly spurns the more Grazioso aspects of mid period Kempff in the finale, preferring instead fleetness of finger. In the most expressive and obviously greatest of the trio of Op 2, the C major, Schnabel opens the Allegro con brio in powerful style; this whole movement suits his mobility of mind and finger, the sometimes viscerally contrastive quality he brings to Beethoven, early, middle and late. In the Adagio he exemplifies another aspect of his indisputable greatness, which is not simply the extended tempo, but the proper maintenance of that tempo. The Adagio is relatively slow but it breathes, has depth, internal motion; it is, in a word, consequential. Similarly the Scherzo is fuelled by drama, fully engaged by Schnabel and the splendidly phrased finale has radiant life and affirmatory spirit Ė as well as Beethovenian and Schnabelian cragginess itís true, that adduce still more meaning to the text.

In view of the price differential between the various issues of Schnabelís Beethoven Sonatas this Naxos entrant is a welcome addition. At superbudget price it will be mandatory listening for those yet to hear the Beethoven Society recordings in all their profound and spiritual depth.

Jonathan Woolf

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