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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, Pathétique (1798) [19:39]; No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106, Hammerklavier (1817/18) [44:49]; No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1 (1798) [8:32]
François-Frédéric Guy (piano)
rec. Dijon Auditorium, France, September 2005. DDD
NAÏVE V 5023 [73:00]

For François-Frédéric Guy, the Hammerklavier is, ‘the guiding thread of my artistic quest and the centre of gravity around which my repertoire is structured’ (taken from the booklet for the present CD). Guy has played this work over sixty times in public and even boasts a previous recording (1997, Harmonia Mundi). He is aware that the present one might not be his final effort, either!
My last encounter with this pianist - in Brahms in 2004 - left me decidedly underwhelmed (see review). I am not sure Guy’s Beethoven is sufficiently convincing to change my ideas although there are more positives here than previously. The recording is clear yet there is a very slightly soft, almost felty feel to the opening of the ‘Hammerklavier’ (the producer/engineer/editor was Laure Casenave-Péré).
The Hammerklavier actually improves as it progresses. Guy loses momentum in the first movement - around 6:20 especially - and overall there is little of the excitement that Pollini (DG) generates. The second movement, too, is rather clunky and clumsy; Gilels on DG is perhaps supreme here. It is only with the great ‘Adagio sostenuto’ that Guy raises his game. This is very interior playing and if there remain carps - chording at around 1:38 is not exactly together, for example - at least the stillness at the heart of the music is there. The infamous fugal finale is technically fine, exuding a Bachian care and clarity. Yet the placatory passage around 8:37 ff loses its effect. There is a large list of fine Hammerklaviers. This version does not join them, alas.
The Pathétique begins well - it actually starts the disc - heavy and full of import. If much of the Allegro is merely good rather than anything special, it has to be conceded that the return of the Grave emerges as a masterstroke.
As if to continue this rather strange mix of the fine with the commonplace, the famous Adagio cantabile is blessed with a fine singing melody counterbalanced by a thoroughly mundane accompaniment. The finale is Guy’s best Beethoven so far, light and fleet - is he making a deliberate link to Mozart here? - and goes some way towards redeeming the Sonata. It certainly takes this performance marginally above the one on Pentatone by Mischa Dichter – recently reviewed by me.
Finally, the G minor Sonata, Op. 19 No. 1. The first movement is marked ‘Andante’ and Guy seems to want to place it next to Haydn. The delicacy is really quite appealing, as is the staccato touch he finds for the finale. It is not enough to redeem a disc that in the main makes me ask why a company as intelligent as Naïve is so fully behind an artist who seems to be nothing special?
Colin Clarke


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