One of the most grown-up review sites around

52,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Yes we are selling
Acte Prealable again!
£11 post-free

we also sell Skarbo

and Oboe Classics


with Eggebrecht we get all the excitement we can handle

Book 1 Book 2 Book3
Mota The Triptych: -Website

Asmik Grigorian

Breathtaking Performance
controversial staging
Review Westbrook
Review Hedley
Every lover of Salome should see this recording
Mullenger interpretation

absolutely thrilling

immediacy and spontaneity

Schumann Lieder

24 Preludes
one of the finest piano discs

‘Box of Delights.’

J S Bach A New Angle
Organ fans form an orderly queue

a most welcome issue

I enjoyed it tremendously

the finest traditions of the house

music for theorbo
old and new

John Luther Adams
Become Desert
concealing a terrifying message

ground-breaking, winning release

screams quality

Surprise of the month

English Coronation, 1902-1953
magnificent achievement

REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Piano Sonatas

Mélodie Zhao (piano)
rec. July 2012-December 2013, Studio Ernest Ansermet, RTS Geneva
Full details at foot of review
CLAVES 50-1304-13 [10 CDs: 612:09]

Mélodie Zhao is a name new to me, and reading the booklet notes I was astonished how much she has achieved in her twenty years. Born 1994 into a musical family in Switzerland, and of Chinese origin, she took up the piano at the age of three. These early lessons were in Beijing with Jiaquan Chen at the Central Conservatory of Music of China. Six years later she moved to the Geneva Conservatory to continue her studies. She is currently working with Pascal Devoyon in Berlin. She has also added composition, orchestration and conducting to her curriculum. She has already composed a piano sonata called ‘Sources’, taking Chinese water landscape as inspiration. This was premiered at the Jinan Festival (China) in 2010. To date, in addition to this Beethoven cycle, she has recorded the complete Chopin Études and the Liszt Transcendental Études, both for the Claves label.

Having listened to the set twice through over the past few weeks, I am convinced that these are persuasive accounts. Tempi are well-judged and spontaneity and freshness underpin the readings. There is a complete lack of mannerism and idiosyncrasy in this young pianist’s approach. Her technique is flawless. In the ‘Hammerklavier’ she meets all the technical demands head-on. It is a thrilling performance, well-paced and brimming with confidence. She has an innate understanding of the structure and architecture of the work, and her intelligent approach enables her to realize her vision of the titanic struggle and conflict within this vast composition. The slow movement displays grandeur, poetry and profound insights. I love the clashing sonorities she emphasizes in the Fuga finale. Similar virtuosic prowess is evident in the Sonata Op.2 No.3, Op.109 and the opening movement of Op. 22, where Beethoven stretches the pianist’s technique to the limit.

The slow movements are sensitively sculpted and ravishingly played. In the Largo of Op. 7, Zhao makes dramatic and evocative use of silences. In Op. 10, No. 3 the Largo is dark and expressive and takes you on a journey of discovery. The Adagio of Op. 31 No. 2 ‘Tempest’ is distinguished by intensity and introspection.

In the final sonata, Op. 111 in C minor Zhao grabs your attention right from the start with an opening diminished seventh chord declaimed with forceful energy and drama. There is much vigour and passion in the reading. In contrast, the second movement Arietta is an expansive set of variations, where the conflicts of the preceding movement are assuaged. The opening theme is simple, yet has a certain nobility and other-worldly quality. Zhao gradually builds up the music with each successive variation. The movement ends in resignation and repose; there’s nothing further to say.

My only quibble, and it is only a minor one, is Zhao’s omission of repeats. For example, in the Menuettos of Op. 2, No. 1 and Op. 31, No. 3, the repeats of the second parts of the minuets and trios are omitted. To my ear, this adversely affects the balance of the movements.

The first nine sonatas of this Beethoven cycle, with the exception of No. 6 in F major, Op. 10, No. 2 were recorded on a Bösendorfer; in the rest Zhao uses a Steinway. There is a considerable difference in sound between the two instruments. The Bösendorfer has a more powerful, hard–edged sound, with an impressive bass. The Steinway’s timbre is more rounded and sweet, and offers the pianist a greater range of colour. Whilst I admire both instruments, I feel that the Steinway is preferable. Both pianos are expertly voiced.

This traversal is beautifully recorded, and the piano sound is impressive warm and well-balanced throughout. The Studio Ernest Ansermet offers a spacious acoustic to showcase Zhao’s outstanding pianism. Chris Walton supplies a detailed and informative essay on the evolution of the Thirty-Two. Notes are in English, French and German. I also find that chronologically sequencing the sonatas over the ten CDs gives one the feel of being on a journey.

This is a remarkable achievement for a young pianist and, whilst Brendel, Pollini and Wilhelm Kempff may be more probing and offer some greater insights, this cycle has much to say from a young pianist’s perspective. I hope Zhao returns to these works later on in her career. It will be interesting to hear how her interpretations mature. She’s definitely one to watch out for.

Stephen Greenbank
Full details of contents
CD 1 [64:28]
No. 1 in F minor op. 2 no. 1 (1793-5)
No. 2 in A major op. 2 no. 2 (1794-5)
No. 3 in C major op. 2 no. 3 (1794-5)

CD 2 [57:28]
No. 4 in E flat major op. 7 (1796-7)
No. 5 in C minor op. 10 no. 1 (1795-7)
No. 6 in F major op. 10 no. 2 (1796-7)

CD 3 [59:16]
No. 7 in D major op. 10 no. 3 (1797-8)
No. 8 in C minor op. 13 "Pathétique" (1797-8)
No. 9 in E major op. 14 no. 1 (1798)

CD 4 [60:25]
No. 10 in G major op. 14 no. 2 (1799)
No. 11 in B flat major op. 22 (1800)
No. 12 in A flat major op. 26 "Funeral March" (1800-01)

CD 5 [54:05]
No. 13 in E flat major op. 27 no. 1 (1800-01)
No. 14 in C sharp minor op. 27 no. 2 "Moonlight" (1801)
No. 15 in D major op. 28 "Pastorale" (1801)

CD 6 [68:07]
No. 16 in G major op. 31 no. 1 (1802)
No. 17 in D minor op. 31 no. 2 "Tempest" (1802)
No. 18 in E flat major op. 31 no. 3 (1802)

CD 7 [51:00]
No. 19 in G minor op. 49 no. 1 (1797)
No. 20 in G major op. 49 no. 2 (1796)
No. 21 in C major op. 53 "Waldstein" (1803-04)
No. 22 in F major op. 54 (1804)

CD 8 [72:22]
No. 23 in F minor op. 57 "Appassionata" (1804-05)
No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 (1809)
No. 25 in G major op. 79 (1809)
No. 26 in E flat major op. 81A "Les Adieux" (1809-10)
No. 27 in E minor op. 90 (1814)

CD 9 [61:39]
No. 28 in A major op. 101 (1816)
No. 29 in B flat major op. 106 "Hammerklavier" (1817-18)

CD 10 [62:19]
No. 30 in E major op. 109 (1820)
No. 31 in A flat major op. 110 (1821-22)
No. 32 in C minor op. 111 (1821-22)



We are currently offering in excess of 52,000 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger