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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas Vol. 2

Piano Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2 (1795-1796) [23.02]
Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81A ("Lebewohl"or "Les Adieux") (1809) [17.44]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 (c.1822) [29.48]
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)
rec. 2006, no other details given. DDD
BRIDGE 9201 [71.17]


American pianist Garrick Ohlsson came to fame in 1970 winning the Chopin International Piano Competition. Formerly a student of the late great Claudio Arrau, he has been regarded as a leading exponent of the music of Chopin, although MusicWeb reviewers have been pretty reserved in their appreciation. Ohlsson has now come to the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, as well as the Romantic repertoire. This release coincides with the pianist's Complete Beethoven Sonata cycles at the Tanglewood and Ravinia Festivals in the summer of 2006. They appear to have been well received performances but perhaps Bridge would have been wise to record Ohlsson live like Craig Sheppard in his acclaimed live cycle. The sonatas here seem to lack "life" and are studio-bound. It is also unwise with such competition to have a single full price disc although it’s probably a good idea if single discs are to be issued to have them from different periods as is the case here.

Although Beethoven had written piano works prior to 1795 the three sonatas were the first to be given opus numbers; following the masterful Op. 1 piano trios. The Op. 2, No. 2 Sonata was dedicated to Beethoven’s teacher, Joseph Haydn, and was composed in 1795-96. Though it is a relatively early work, Beethoven was 26 at the time and at that age Mozart was in full flight and Schubert had only five years left. Whilst owing a debt to Haydn, whose piano works are scandalously underrated, this work has many of the hallmarks of the mature Beethoven; After an undemonstrative beginning to the Allegro I was drawn into the performance. The highlights here are a tender but never flaccid Largo and a splendidly invigorated scherzo. The last movement is an especial favourite and here the Rondo grazioso is beautifully played. It’s certainly good in its own terms but turning to Arrau (Philips 462358 2) we are in a different world and the forty-year-old recording is brighter than the dull sound encountered on Ohlsson's disc. Louis Lortie on Chandos CHAN 9212 of all three Op. 2s produced an excellent performance and a youthful sparkle which eludes Ohlsson.

The Op. 81a Sonata ("Les Adieux") has been used to close his recitals and is clearly close to his heart. It receives a very steady performance without self-consciousness or being overly self-regarding. Beethoven introduces a terrific sense of unforced fun in the final movement but I’m not sure Ohlsson fully realizes this. To be frank I turned to budget price and found Jeno Jando on Naxos 8.550054 preferable by some distance. The problem throughout is that there is a lack of architectural structure and different colours. It’s all either very quiet or very loud and the sound doesn’t help. I’m not a pianist but there seems to be a lack of flow in Ohlsson’s playing; fine technique but no "inner spirit".

The C minor Sonata, Op.111 was Beethoven’s last piano sonata and the finest performances are real "seat of the pants" renditions; not quite so here - fine playing but missing to my ears that "part other pianists cannot reach". It’s certainly there in Stephen Kovacevich’s earlier incomplete set Philips 4756319. As for the finale, Ohlsson at over twenty minutes almost grinds to a halt. Kovacevich takes only 17 minutes in his older recording and just about 18:00 on EMI Classics and the pulse is maintained. I really didn’t take to Ohlsson’s performance and felt it stilted and two-dimensional. At one stage Beethoven seems almost to be in a "jazz" mood and the rhythm needs to invoke dance; I didn’t feel it here.

So for me a very disappointing disc and at full price a non-starter unless you are a fan of this musician. There are so many great cycles recently completed; Kovacevich on EMI Classics 56148, Sheppard and ones such as Schiff and Lewis currently underway. Sadly this disc falls into the "not needed on the voyage" category.

David R Dunsmore

Sadly this disc falls into the "not needed on the voyage" category. ... see Full Review


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