Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Piano Sonatas
Disc details: see end of review
HJ Lim (piano)
rec. July-August 2011, Faller Hall, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
EMI CLASSICS 464952 2 [8 CDs: 73:25 + 77:25 + 58:56 + 62:38 + 49:43 + 79:51 + 53:55 + 79:57]

Two colleagues (Reinhart; Clements) have already extensively reviewed this collection of HJ Lim’s recording of the Beethoven sonata cycle, from which she excludes the Op.49 duo, to leave a bare thirty. Given that they have done so, my remarks are rather on the lines of particular observations, though I have listened to all her sonata performances.
Verve and vitality mark out her playing. Her devices may strike one as Old School taken to excess, or they may seem simply daring and new. Whatever one’s viewpoint, the Pathétique’s first movement is subject to a veritable battery of metric displacements and rhythmic manipulations to such an extent that the rhythm never settles. Worse, and more damaging, one can anticipate what Lim has on her mind and the predictability of her caprice becomes unattractive. Her left hand’s busyness and incursiveness in the second movement is accompanied by constant and extreme tempo fluctuation — at one point she even halves the tempo. By the finale, regrettably, the performance has long since become wearying.
The Appassionata again embodies powerful contrasts, though here her rhythm is stricter. The slow movement is certainly strongly sculpted but it doesn’t become especially expressive. The finale certainly reveals a strong technique but it is expressed in a rather truculent way and is disfigured by some Lisztian italicising and caustic declamation. The Waldstein attests to the clarity of her passagework but comes at a real cost of making the music sound more like finger exercises than real music-making. Hold on for the finale where some exaggerated dynamics are accompanied by Rock ’n’ Roll rhythm. In the Moonlight, played with refined touch, her delicate retardation of the rhythm is sufficient to impede legato phrasing; meanwhile there’s vehemence in the dramatic finale. Youthfully brusque, the Hammerklavier shows finer things; a bright tone, unsentimental phrasing, to a fault indeed, and a reasonable grasp of the complexities of the music.
The last sonatas are marked by real fleetness of tempo. The finale of Op.109 is very direction and goal-orientated, whilst the Arietta of Op.111 is driven very hard, as is the corresponding finale of the earlier Op.101. Her performance of Op.78 is altogether more convincing in this respect and Op.27 No.1 shakes and shimmers with real vigour and energy.
She has assembled the sonatas thematically, not chronologically. Thus the first volume —each of the four CDs is a twofer, thus there are eight CDs altogether—contains ‘The Heroic Ideals’, and takes in the Hammerklavier, Op.22 and Les Adieux, the last of which receives an intermittently compelling reading. ‘Eternal Feminine — Youth’ gives us Opp.7, 14 No.1 and 14 No.2, 27 and the Moonlight (Op.27 No.2).
The recording quality is reasonable, and captures Lim’s Yamaha with fidelity, though it’s not an instrument dripping with warmth. These pugnacious, fast, excitable and unevenly successful performances chart the work-in-progress of a gifted 24 year old pianist. I’m sure this will not be her last word on the sonatas.
Jonathan Woolf
I’m sure that this will not be Lim’s last word on the sonatas.
Disc details
Volume 1
CD 1
Theme I: Heroic Ideals
No. 29 in B flat major op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’ (1817-18) [37:22]
No. 11 in B flat major op. 22 (1800) [26:29]
No. 26 in E flat major op. 81A "Les Adieux" (1809-10) [14:33]
CD 2
Theme II: Eternal Feminine - Youth
No. 4 in E flat major op. 7 (1796-7) [24:21]
No. 9 in E major op. 14 no. 1 (1798) [11:59]
No. 10 in G major op. 14 no. 2 (1799) [13:55]
No. 13 in E flat major op. 27 no. 1 (1800-01) [13:14]
No. 14 in C sharp minor op. 27 no. 2 ‘Moonlight’ (1801) [13:54]

Volume 2
CD 1
Theme 3: Assertion of an inflexible personality
No. 1 in F minor op. 2 no. 1 (1793-5) [15:40]
No. 2 in A major op. 2 no. 2 (1794-5) [19:40]
No. 3 in C major op. 2 no. 3 (1794-5) [23:35]
CD 2
Theme 4: Nature
No. 15 in D major op. 28 ‘Pastorale’ (1801) [22:08]
No. 21 in C major op. 53 ‘Waldstein’ (1803-04) [22:54]
No. 22 in F major op. 54 (1804) [9:47]
No. 25 in G major op. 79 (1809) [7:48]

Volume 3
CD 1
Theme 5: Extremes in collision
No. 5 in C minor op. 10 no. 1 (1795-7) [16:01]
No. 6 in F major op. 10 no. 2 (1796-7) [11:41]
No. 7 in D major op. 10 no. 3 (1797-8) [18:00]
CD 2
Theme 6: Resignation and action
No. 16 in G major op. 31 no. 1 (1802) [20:14]
No. 17 in D minor op. 31 no. 2 ‘Tempest’ (1802) [20:32]
No. 18 in E flat major op. 31 no. 3 (1802) [20:23]
No. 28 in A major op. 101 (1816) [18:41]

Volume 4
CD 1
Theme 7: Eternal Feminine - Maturity
No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 (1809) [9:02]
No. 27 in E minor op. 90 (1814) [11:44]
No. 30 in E major op. 109 (1820) [16:35]
No. 31 in A flat major op. 110 (1821-22) [16:33]
CD 2
Theme 8: Destiny
No. 8 in C minor op. 13 ‘Pathétique’ (1797-8) [17:09]
No. 12 in A flat major op. 26 ‘Funeral March’ (1800-01) [16:54]
No. 23 in F minor op. 57 ‘Appassionata’ (1804-05) [22:37]
No. 32 in C minor op. 111 (1821-22) [23:16]

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