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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas
No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 Pathétique [19:08]
No. 14 in C# minor Op. 27/2 Moonlight [15:56]
No. 15 in D major Op. 28 Pastorale [24:54]
No. 17 in D minor Op. 31/2 Tempest [21:25]
No. 21 in C major Op. 53 Waldstein [24:40]
No. 23 in F minor Op. 57 Appassionata [24:04]
No. 26 in E flat major Op. 81a Les Adieux [15:00]
No. 29 in B flat major Op. 106 Hammerklavier [43:11]
Alfred Brendel (piano)
rec. Vienna, early 1960s
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94272 [3 CDs: 59:31 + 58:18 + 71:06]

Experience Classicsonline

It may be hard to believe now, but before these Sonatas were recorded by Vox in the early 1960s collectors would have been involved in very heavy expense if they wished to own recordings of all of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. Even if they could afford this the choice of versions was very limited. The publication of recordings of all of Beethoven’s solo piano music in a series of comparatively inexpensive Vox Boxes was therefore to be welcomed, even if the performer was far from well known at that time, at least in England. In the event collectors who were prepared to risk buying them were richly rewarded with performances that were always interesting, intelligent and faithful to the composer, even if the recording was at best variable.

This was only the first cycle of the Beethoven Sonatas that Brendel was to record, and it would be hard to argue that it was his best. Nonetheless it has very considerable merits. The present selection is given the title “Favourite Piano Sonatas” which seems to mean those with nicknames. For all their virtues it would be hard otherwise to justify including Les Adieux and the Pastorale rather than any of the last three Sonatas. However if you take the title as no more than advertising puff what you have here is a varied selection of eight Sonatas. The performances are above all characterful and eager to make the most of the quirky individuality of each movement. Indeed Brendel seems to relish that individuality much more than any conventional opportunities for pianistic gesture. The slow movement and final fugue of the Hammerklavier are played with immense concentration and care whereas the first movement can at times seem almost humdrum. The Moonlight receives an especially rapt and beautiful performance, but throughout all the discs there is a sense that the player is seeking to reveal above all the daring of Beethoven’s inspiration. When first issued as LPs the recording was, to put it kindly, variable. What is now presented on these discs may not be up to the highest standards one might hope for but it never gets in the way of enjoying the music and the performances.

All in all these are a fascinating set of performances which would make an admirable addition to any collection of Beethoven Sonatas, especially as a comparison with other artists or indeed with Brendel’s own later performances. There is a brief but interesting note on the music by Malcolm Macdonald. At the low price at which the set is available these are discs that should have wide appeal.

John Sheppard