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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57 ‘Appassionata’ (1807) [23:52]
Piano Sonata No.9 in E major, Op.14 No.1 (1798) [15:10]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111 (1822) [25:02]
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Centre, New York, 21-24 November 2006
BRIDGE 9251 [64:47]


Experience Classicsonline

Bridge Records are slowly releasing a complete Beethoven Sonata survey from Garrick Ohlsson, so I was slightly confused to get this apparently one-off recital by young Soviet pianist Vassily Primakov. They presumably want to showcase his talents, but how it sits alongside the Olsson cycle I’m not quite sure. Anyway, here we have a miscellaneous selection of sonatas, early-ish, middle and late, giving us a sort of overview of Beethoven’s development in this area.

The playing is very assured, as might be expected form a rising virtuoso trying to make his mark in such a competitive arena. I’m glad to say the interpretations are mainly non-interventionist, so there should be very little to upset anyone. Primakov certainly has a sure grasp of architecture, managing to give the listener a real feeling of a whole journey rather than indulging in any tiresome interpretative point-scoring along the way. Tempos in the outer movements generally sound well judged to my ears, and the technique is secure enough to enjoy the odd thrill and spill where Beethoven lets his hair down, as in the development section of the Appassionata’s first movement. He gauges the long second half of Op.111 with real sensibility to its shape and organic growth, along the way providing the requisite atmosphere and colour in the piano’s topmost register.

If I have a quibble, it’s that while the slow movements of the two ‘big’ sonatas seem well judged - that is, not too slow or indulgently romanticised – he does linger in the Allegretto of the E major, a strange decision given his decisions in the other works. It simply sounds stodgy and lacking the minuet character which, as Malcolm McDonald’s excellent note points out, is so obviously what Beethoven intended. Primakov also occasionally distorts a phrase with a tiny hesitation, especially before ‘busy’ passages. This doesn’t distract every time, and probably wouldn’t be an issue at a concert, but here and there it is just a tiny bit irritating, especially when compared to the clean-cut phrasing of, say, Richard Goode on Nonesuch. It’s a small point, and very much personal opinion which may not even be noticed by others.

Nice warm audio quality and a well regulated Steinway complete what is, on the whole, an enjoyable Beethoven recital from another young pianist worth watching. Whether it will tempt you to part with full price, I’m not sure, especially given the plethora of budget and mid-price competition, but there is obvious talent on display.

Tony Haywood


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