Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus D.935; No.3 in B flat major (1828) [10:00]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in F major, Op. 10 No. 2 (1796-8) [10:43]
Piano Sonata in B flat major, Op. 106 “Für das Hammerklavier” (1817-18) [41:25]
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)
rec. 24 September 1959, live, Beethovenhalle, Bonn

Not for the first time, one encounters 75 year old Wilhelm Backhaus on tremendous form in recital, here at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn in September 1959. His concert begins with Schubert’s Impromptu No.3 in B flat major from the D.935 set. There is such facility and tonal lustre here, and a dappled, songful lightness propelled by the deftest of left hand rhythms. He is at pains to explore, but not to overplay, the harmonic directions of the music, and his reading is meanwhile full of lyrical affirmation and delightful tonal resources. When required he employs dynamism tinged with élan. The concert could scarcely have begun in a more richly affectionate way.
Backhaus then contrasted two Beethoven sonatas, pitting the F major Op.10 No.2 ‘against’ - if one can put it that way - the Hammerklavier. In the former sonata he wittily points up the ’wrong key’ element embedded, whilst not overlooking the charming but also somewhat thoughtfully disquieting aspects of the central Allegretto; its more pregnantly curious paragraphs are deftly adjudicated. The finale is properly spirited.
In the great acres of the Hammerklavier, one finds Backhaus as committed and sagacious as ever. He recorded the sonata for his Decca mono LP cycle at the beginning of the decade but it was the only work that he failed to re-record for the later stereo cycle. The very start is deceptive. Its seeming lumpy quality is soon dispelled by sonic drive and technically powerful engagement. Backhaus’s famed sense of logical divination is at a premium here, as he lays bare the motivic shards of the music as it advances. His Scherzo is dramatic, voiced with considerable intensity and clarity. His technique remained formidable, as he was to show a full decade later in the last year of his life (see review) when he performed four Beethoven sonatas in a single recital in Berlin. The slow movement of the Hammerklavier is considered, nuanced, frequently of great depth and tonal beauty, and wholly at the service of a performance of spiritual and expressive nobility.

This is a distinguished release, extremely well recorded, and well documented. It should be listened to alongside Backhaus’s earlier studio mono Hammerklavier and Op.10 No.2, because whilst his conception didn’t materially alter, this live recital reflects on that commercial legacy and offers a valuable amplification of it.
Jonathan Woolf  

A distinguished release, extremely well recorded and well documented.