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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Sonata #8 in d, Op. 13, "Pathétique" (1798) [16.50]
Sonata #21 in C, , Op. 53, "Waldsteinsonate" (1804) [22.01]
Sonata #23 in f, , Op. 57, "Appassionata" (1805) [21.53]
Rondo a Capriccio Op. 129, "Rage over a lost penny" (1795) [5.54]
Wilhelm Kempff, piano
Restored from 78 rpms: THS Studio Hogler Siedler, Dormager, Germany. ADD
Notes included consist of listing and timings of works, issue and matrix numbers.
Note: "Free download of the booklet at www.haenssler-classic.de" See comments.
HAENSSLER CD 94.046 [67.08]

 

The overall sound of these transfers is not merely good, but startlingly so, as you will quickly discover if you take advantage of the Ludwig track sample audition feature (not currently available). Only in the loudest passages of tracks 8 and 9 is there a slight distortion. Oddly, there is a single loud thwack! at about two minutes into track 2, and some softer crackles at 2 minutes into track 3; when it would have been so simple to remove them, I wonder why they were not removed during restoration. Naturally, I have copied the disk, performing my own surgery in the process and now have a cleaned up copy to listen to. But why did I have to do that? Is this some sort of "watermark?" Somebody’s idea of "authenticity?"

If you attempt to download the booklet at the website given, <<http://www.haenssler-classic.de>>, you are told: "Booklet-Download derzeit nicht verfügbar! Leider können wir Ihnen an dieser Stelle das Booklet erst Ende Februar 2004 zum Download zur Verfügung stellen. Wir bitten dies zu entschuldigen und bedanken uns für Ihr Verständnis. Die Online-Redaktion." If you click "English" in the upper right corner, you then are redirected to <<https://ssl.haenssler.de/classic.uk>> and discover: "NOTE: The Booklet-Download feature is temporarily unavailable! This feature is currently Under Construction and will be available again at the end of February 2004. Please check back again at that time. Thank you for your understanding. The Webmaster" Well, these works are so familiar, who needs notes anyway.

The performance of the Pathétique is a little unusual compared with mid to late 20th century consensus performance canon (track 2), but we should expect nothing less from one of the century’s greatest musicians, and we should expect an awful lot to have changed between 1932 and the 1950s. Although it is unfashionable to speak of it, individual Germans suffered during World War II, and a great artist and humanitarian like Kempff could be expected to emerge from the experience shaken if not shattered, at the very least re-examining everything that he had done before.

Performance of the Op. 53, "Waldstein" is nearer the consensus (track 6). Fortunately Kempff does not observe the "allegro assai" notation on the first movement of Op. 57, "Appassionata." Although I suspect very few pianists could play it this fast if they wanted to, Kempff has plenty of velocity in reserve and is clearly shaping these phrases and structuring the drama (track 9). The Op. 129 is neither a distinguished work nor a particularly distinguished performance of it, so let’s pretend it was just left off the disk, which still gives us over an hour of greatness for our money.

It’s not that I’m really a Beethoven hater (even though I’ve said almost that several times), but you will no doubt think it odd that I don’t have any performances of these sonatas in my collection at present. That doesn’t mean I don’t know exactly what they sound like, as well as what they should sound like. The point to be made is that I now do have a favourite performance of these works in my collection—this one (de-thwacked, of course). So comparisons might not be forthcoming, but superlatives—yes, definitely.

Paul Shoemaker



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