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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.4 in E flat major Op.7 [26.24]
Piano Sonata No.11 in B flat major Op.22 [22.24]
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109 [17.05]
Samuel Feinberg (piano)
No recording information given


This is a valuable disc, one that complements the first volume in this series, given over to The Well Tempered Clavier (see review) and also Arbiter’s exploratory work in Feinberg studies (see reviews 1; 2).

We have evidence in the first Arbiter volume of how titanically febrile Feinberg could be in Beethoven. His Appassionata opens with galvanic intensity. Here we have three more examples, very much more equable, of his approach to Beethoven interpretation.

The Op. 7 sonata is writ in extrovert relief. To cite a near contemporaneous performance, the mono Kempff, is to do no more than set one pianist at odds with another. Where Kempff is lightly articulated and generous with rhythmic swing, we find Feinberg masculine, much quicker and deliberately more leaden. The chording and pedalling in the Largo are more externalised, gradients are deeper, more loamy, and dynamics are bigger. Similarly the decorous pointing of a Kempff has no place in Feinberg’s grittier and squarer-jawed Beethovenian sound-world.

These are the kinds of differences and distinctions one will find throughout the three performances. The Op.22 sonata is highly emotive and driving in Feinberg’s hands; left hand accents aren’t pointed with Kempff’s refinement or strategic intent. Feinberg’s sound picture is very much more dense, more congested than that cultivated by the German player. Those darker and teakier textures are most obvious in the same sonata’s slow movement. There’s more of everything; more arm weight, more pedal, more obvious depth, a blacker, bleaker place entirely.

Op.109 sees an intensification of these qualities and it remains entirely consonant with the other examples of his sonata performances of the composer. There’s less graphic drama and detail in his performance than in the recording by Schnabel. He’s certainly considerably quicker than Schnabel in the Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo revealing once more a definably Feinbergian sense of stoic nobility, animated seriousness and a reluctance to indulge external sentiment. He differs in this rather profoundly from Schnabel’s own interior and introspective Olympian stance and indeed from Kempff’s own more refined qualities.

The tapes are in relatively but not absolutely good estate. There is post-echo in the second movement of Op.109 and other small concerns elsewhere. But these are important documents of a musician of the highest spiritual qualities.

Jonathan Woolf



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