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Ludwig van Beethoven - The Original Piano Roll Recordings
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Moonlight Op. 27/2 (1801) [12:28] ¹
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [13:22] ²
Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major Cuckoo Op. 79 (1809) [7:55] ³
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2/3 (1795) [20:55] #
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90 (1814) [12:36] +
Gavotte in F [2:55] +
Andante for piano in F major Andante favori WoO 57 (1803) [8:41] *
Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major Funeral March Op. 26 (1800-01) [17:48] *
Bagatelle in B minor Op.126 No.4 [3:39] ^
Turkish March [1:58] #
Ignace Paderewski (piano), rec. 1927 ¹
Alfred Cortot (piano), rec. 1927 ²
Myra Hess (piano), rec. 1927 ³
Josef Hofmann (piano) #
Eugen d’Albert (piano) +
Wanda Landowska (piano) *
Harold Bauer (piano) ^
DAL SEGNO DSPRCD 030 [54:46 + 46:41]


After my less than enjoyable time with Dal Segno’s Mozart piano roll disc – very short timing indeed review – I feel slightly happier with this companion volume. It’s a two-disc set and though the timings are still not overly generous they’re better – and the music is better as well.

I assume that I can dispense with my usual paragraph on the roll system for once. Nothing here will alter one’s perception either of the system or this company’s presentation of it. The chosen piano’s action is noiseless and is in tune. Recorded back in 1992 these transfers do suffer from a degree of residual high-level hiss, though the recordings are so immediate that this will not be problematic.

Comparison can be made between pianists who left behind disc and roll performances of the same piece. In this case one can contrast Paderewski’s 1926 Victor of the first movement of the Moonlight with this roll of the complete sonata, probably made a year later. The disc performance is a good three quartets of a minute slower. The roll is quicker, more rhythmically inflexible (as expected) with exaggerated bass pointing and a lack of genuine rubato. Despite the system’s ubiquitous claims about infinite grades of tone the pianissimi in which Paderewski is so successful on disc are barely noticeable in the roll performance.

The question of Cortot is less clear cut but only because a partial "teaching" performance exists of Op.109 given between 1954 and 1960 at the Master Classes at the École Normale de Musique. Despite the fact that Cortot talks and demonstrates his interpretative imperatives – and doesn’t therefore give a straightforward performance – and despite the fact that this took place so many years after the roll recording certain things remain true. The espressivo he insists upon, both in words and pianistic touch, is largely absent in the roll and omnipresent in the live tape – it’s on Sony S3K89698, by the way, a three CD set. The roll chugs, as do most of these rolls, and the tape soars. I should also add that the touch of all these pianists is effectively ironed out by the roll. I doubt that if one listened blind, and that includes aficionados, one would be able to distinguish one pianist from another.

Therefore major statements by Hofmann, d’Albert, Landowska and Hess must be taken largely on trust, even though – especially though - neither left behind disc recordings of the sonatas they perform here. These are rhythmically implacable shadows of interpretations.

As before there are no biographies of the pianists and a generic one of Beethoven. This needs seriously to be rethought.

Jonathan Woolf



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