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Decca Phase 4
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106, Hammerklavier (1818)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2 No. 3 (1794/5) [26:35].
Markus Becker (piano)
rec. November 2004. DDD
CPO 777 239-2 [71:30]
very much enjoyed Markus Becker's disc of Dussek for CPO
on 777 020-2 (see review): piano sonatas Opp. 44, 61 and
64. Yet Dussek is one thing; the Beethoven of the Hammerklavier altogether
another. Becker clearly takes a
heroic view of this gargantuan work; just listen to the challenge
of the opening bars. There is plenty of understanding of
voice-leading here, too. It is just that there is a tendency
for Becker to get more pedestrian as the movement progresses.
The Scherzo fares well enough, but it is not really until
the huge slow movement that we get to hear what Becker is
capable of. Becker takes it at my kind of speed: very, very
slowly – it takes him just one second under twenty minutes.
He has the long-range clarity of thought and the cantabile,
legato touch to sustain it. If this is not the deepest version
- try Schnabel, Pollini or Brendel for that - Becker nevertheless
sustains the tension over such a large span.
A shame, then, that the finale almost spoils it by being
rather careful with the fugue's expository semiquavers. In
live performance I feel sure Becker would not tread quite
so thoughtfully. The tension does flag, though – this is
more Bachian than Beethovenian playing. Ironically, Becker
is at his best just before the end. There is so much to admire
here, yet this is clearly an interpretation in progress.
The B flat Sonata, Op. 22 is one of the longest of Beethoven's
earlier works in this genre. It is also notoriously tricky:
that pesky C major – so many white notes! Yet Becker makes
light of the difficulties, clarifying voice-leading and projecting
a crystal-clean treble. This is very well caught in CPO's
recording. The dreamy yet not unstylish Adagio is pitted
against an opera buffa-like Scherzo where the polyphonic
strands play Tom-and-Jerry with each other. The finger-twister
finale is expertly negotiated with a real sense of rightness.
Becker is a pianist to watch. I would like to see him live,
for sure. Unfortunately the booklet is not up to CPO's normally
high standards. There is no recording venue specified, something
CPO are normally consistent about – also, his instrument
is referred to as a 'fortepiano' and – just next to that – a
Steinway model 'D'.
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