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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1828)
Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57, “Appassionata” (1807) [23:52]
Sonata No.9 in E major, Op.14, No.1 (1798) [15:10]
Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111 (1820-1822) [25:02]
Vassily Primakov (piano)
rec. 21, 22, 24 November 2006, SUNY Purchase: Performing Arts Center, Recital Hall. DDD
BRIDGE 9251 [64:47] 
Experience Classicsonline

If a new Beethoven disc offers neither excitement nor revelation, it shouldn’t be offered at all.  Luckily, the young Vassily Primakov’s first recital for Bridge succeeds on both counts. He may prove to be one of the new players worth hearing, not only in this repertoire but in everything to which he puts his nimble fingers.

A new voice on the American music scene, Primakov is garnering praise for his playing of the romantic repertoire, and in fact, it is the two later sonatas in which he fares best.  Often, this phlegmatic Russian pianist’s greatest strengths are also his weaknesses.  He is capable of immense energy, and the Allegro movement of his “Appassionata” benefits from hairpin dynamic shifts and from the excitement he generates with every gesture.  However, Primakov’s performance of the op. 14 is often overwrought, especially noticeable in the first movement.  He brings out every motif with stunning clarity, but here, his penchant for sudden dynamic changes, not to mention some excessive rubato, obscures the music’s architecture.  Paul Lewis’s recent recording for Harmonia Mundi presents a much more even-handed approach to this charming and witty masterpiece.

All that said, Primakov’s op. 111 is almost beyond reproach; his romanticism is completely justified, allowing fresh insight into Beethoven’s final sonata.  The portentous C octave, coming out of the introduction’s final low trill, is delivered with the devastating force achieved by very few.  Indeed, the entire first theme teems with sublimated energy, Primakov’s arching ascent and descent creating the spine-tingling suspense possible from only the most controlled virtuosity.  His second movement, the epic variation set, is beautifully proportioned, highlighting its unorthodox and highly inventive structure.  Only Anatol Ugorsky’s DG recording presents such a wealth of contrapuntal detail in the later variations, every nuance and gesture being rendered clearly, but Primakov never exhibits his elder countryman’s eccentricities of tempo and phrasing. 

There is such a sense of discovery permeating these highly charged performances that even the less successful moments afford fascination.  If Primakov achieves the mature reflection of a master such as Emil Gilels or Sviatoslav Richter, then he may become one of the most important Beethoven interpreters of his generation.  On the evidence of this offering, his future looks promising.

Marc Medwin

see also Review by Tony Haywood


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