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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 Waldstein [20:59]
Piano Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79 [8:11]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110 [18:52]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111 [23:15]
Conrad Hansen (piano)
rec. 26 November 1952 , Altes Funkhaus, Frankfurt (Op. 53), 19 July 1963, Raum 3/B, Frankfurt (Op. 110), 22 September 1956, Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Krone (Op. 79, Op. 111)
MELOCLASSIC MC1047 [71:21]

The German pianist Conrad Hansen (1906-2002) studied with Edwin Fischer and was later his teaching assistant. Today he has inexplicably fallen off the radar. That may appear strange, because he collaborated with such luminaries as Eugen Jochum, Willem Mengelberg, Herbert von Karajan, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Richard Strauss. His discography, fairly sparse, did include some Mozart piano sonatas played on a fortepiano. I have only had one previous encounter, via his 1943 recording of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler. It has done the rounds in several incarnations. I have to say that I was not overly impressed with his glossing over detail in some passages. Having said that, though, I approached this Meloclassic release with great expectations. Here we have a pianist, from the stable of Edwin Fischer, playing music in the great Germanic tradition. The omens look good.

The tempestuous opening of The Waldstein has vital pace and direction, with a compelling sense of structure. In the brief slow movement, which acts as an introduction to the finale, there is a powerful sense of anticipation. Hansen does not reveal all his cards at the outset in the Prestissimo third movement, but leaves scope for drama and intensity later.

There is an abiding sense of resignation in Hansen’s opening of the A flat major Sonata, Op. 110. With superb technical control, the chords are nicely voiced. Doubt and despair suffuse the Adagio, and the final fugal section is cleanly delineated. Hansen makes much of the contrasting elements of struggle and conflict in the opener, and of serene contemplation in the Arietta. By the end I felt I had been transported to a world of peace and tranquillity.

Although cast on a much smaller scale than the other sonatas here, Op. 79 in G is performed with grace, charm and nobility and is in no sense a throw-away.

Lynn Ludwig’s expert restorations sound very good to my ears. Michael Waiblinger’s detailed biographical essay supplies all the necessary background. This is Beethoven playing of the highest order, and it is to be hoped that more of the pianist’s sonata performances will surface in the not-too-distant future.
 
Stephen Greenbank



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