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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.12 in A flat major, Op. 26 (1800-01) [19:56]
Piano Sonata No.28 in A major, Op. 101 (1816) [18:47]
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat major Hammerklavier Op.106 (1818) [37:33]
Maria Yudina (piano)
rec. 1954 (Op.106) and 1958, Moscow
APR 5670 [76:44]

As part of their ‘The Russian Piano Tradition’ series, APR released this disc devoted to three of Maria Yudina’s Beethoven sonata recordings, made in Moscow in the 1950s.
Yudina (1899-1970) is probably remembered as much for her eccentricities as for her profound musicianship. Most of Bryan Crimp’s fine booklet note is given over to matters biographical and he merely lightly touches at the end on her ‘burning conviction’ as an interpreter, adding that the results may not make for comfortable listening. He succinctly describes her Beethovenian qualities in these performances as ‘captivatingly fluid and natural, full of colour and rhythmic vitality and born of supreme confidence’. The last named quality is certainly unquestionable, as she time and again demonstrates.
What one finds in these three performances are cumulative power and spirit and some very personalised ways with rubati, tempo, timbre and dynamic gradients. That applies to the Op.26 sonata as much as to the two bigger works. There's something obdurately hit and miss about her take on Op.101. She evokes a rustic vigour in the alla marcia and digs deep for a sinewy fugal passage in the finale though it's prefaced by vertiginous rubati once more. For all her acknowledged spiritual depth it sometimes fails to communicate through the microphone.
At almost exactly the same time Yudina set down her thoughts on the Hammerklavier Solomon was recording it in London. She can’t help but sound objectified after him; her tone lacks grandeur and solidity and the sonorous power he commanded is not in evidence in her more brittle and less inward-seeking performance.
Yudina's appeal is often said to be "spiritual" so elements of her live communion with an audience - less happily she read poetry in her recitals as well - are missing. If you seek singing, rounded tone, an effortlessly spun legato, rectitudinous tempi, a measured approach to rubati, and adherence to the text then she is not your pianist. Her courageous approach to the repertoire is best sought in her Stravinsky, Berg, Hindemith, Bartók and Krenek, where her iconoclasm has less cause to damage the music's fabric. But for all the perplexing elements of her playing her granitic single-minded approach is compelling.
One thing certainly worth adding is that the harsh recording quality certainly is against her but even so her tone colours remain constrained and sometimes rather granitic and self-limited. That quality was faithfully reproduced in the multi-volume Yudina series on Vista Vera. I reviewed many of those discs (released singly) and from APR’s disc, I should note that Op.26 appeared on Vista Vera volume 8 [VVCD00075 - see review], that Op.101 was on volume 9 [VVCD0080], and that the Hammerklavier was on volume 4 [VVCD00071].  
Another thing to note is the differing approaches of Vista Vera and APR when it comes to re-mastering. In order to mitigate that harsh Moscow studio recording APR has clearly been a little more interventionist. The clangourous treble and the bright tinny sonorities preserved by VV have been elided into something altogether darker and admittedly, invariably perhaps, more ‘watery’ by APR. It has tamed that often startling, strident sound but at the expense of studio acoustic and by imposing something of a top-to-bottom veil to homogenise the sound. It’s certainly warmer, but the two approaches are poles apart.
Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonata 12 ~~ Sonatas 28 & 29