Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in A major Op.101 (1816) [21:00]
Piano Sonata in B flat major Op.106 Hammerklavier (1817-18) [43:33]
Vladimir Feltsman (piano)
rec. 1998 by MusicMasters
NIMBUS NI 2561 [64:33]

Iím aware the Feltsman has garnered some fine reviews for his concert recitals, but Iíve only been able to listen to him on disc where he seems Ė or seemed, as Iíve heard only his older recordings Ė to operate on a lower level of voltage. I found his textual emendations to the Goldberg Variations to be less than admirable, and here my encounter with his Beethoven, though somewhat more positive, is certainly not unmixed.

Listening without preconceptions, but with visions of him as titanic in concert, proved a mixed blessing in the Hammerklavier. I was listening for things that didnít come. Granted this recording derives from a well recorded session for MusicMasters back in 1998, but there is something almost half-hearted about some of the playing that makes me wonder whether he was entirely comfortable in the studio. This element of short-breathed phrasing tends to sap the sonata of its power and stature and even in the slow movement there is a curious sense of a lack of engagement. This is odd because Feltsman is not at all a cold player, or an objectifying interpreter, but what his playing lacks Ė here Ė is a sense of cumulative development, and a sense of intimacy as well; things are kept at just too much of a remove, tonally and expressively. Thereís plenty of clarity in the finale, and the gaunter sonorities evoked seem to suite Feltsman better but again, disappointingly, there is a lack of cumulative development. Things donít sound remorseless enough, or compelling enough.

Iím afraid I found the same sets of weaknesses in the companion sonata, the A major, in which the knotty phrasing in the first movement is something of a stumbling block. Clearly his approach will have its admirers, more attuned to his kind of sensibility than I, but I do find his playing frustrating and awkward, and, in a word, inhibited.

Jonathan Woolf

I find Feltsmanís playing here frustrating and awkward, and, in a word, inhibited.