L. van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 2 & 7, A. Schiff
L. van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 2 & 7, A. Kuerti
The movements of the sonata broken down by timing show the following:
|Sonata no. 1||I||II||III||IV||Total|
L. van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 2 & 7, W. Kempff (mono)
I prefer Kuerti in the first, Kempff in the second, and Schiff in the third and fourth movement. It’s a shame I didn’t have my Ashkenazy set around, because I remember that, although disappointing as a whole, it was a delight in the early sonatas. Then again, dissecting and comparing the sonata any further would only have detracted too much from the enjoyment of listening to it. As it was, comparison became tedious toward the end because the sonata may withstand repeated listening – but not movement by movement some eight, nine times in a row. Since few buyers of this disc would listen to it in the same manner, I tried to give sonatas 2 to 4 a slightly more casual ear.
|Sonata no. 2||I||II||III||IV||Total|
L. van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 2 & 7, W. Kempff (stereo)
The Largo appassionato sounds slow, almost no matter how you play it. The difference between Schiff (6’46’’) and Kuerti (8’33’’ – the last 15 bars alone take over 1½ minutes) looks larger than it sounds. In the Scherzo - Allegretto Kempff is wispy and speeds through things in a refreshing no-nonsense manner. Kuerti works the material perhaps a bit beyond its worth, whereas Schiff’s approach is very fluid. After all-too exhaustive listening, however, the initial pleasure of these works receded a little and I needed a few weeks distance to return for sonatas nos. 3 and 4. It has actually been months, since then; the works have been released and reviewed and now, finally, called me back to the unfinished review.
L. van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 2 & 7, V. Ashkenazy
Schiff takes some repeats that are generally not taken and brings a fast but hardly blistering Allegro molto e con brio home in just over nine minutes. The dynamic, punctuated way he tackles the notes doesn’t benefit the flow of the movement and seems exaggerated compared to an equally fleet (7:31) - if not even faster but much more fluid - approach by Kurti. Some notes are plunked down in ungainly fashion. The lovely Largo con gran espressione grinds down almost to a halt, a near-complete loss of musical line. When the music gatheres a little more speed (but still not enough) after some very ponderous chords (at about the 7-minute mark), it’s too late to make much of a difference. Although needing considerably less time than the contemplative Kuerti (8:52 against 10:37), the latter does not sound worse and much of the extra time Kuerti needs to finish the slow movement comes in form of pauses and strategically placed silences. In either case, the ‘gran espressione’ should not have come at the cost of slouching through it all. Schiff’s third movement (Allegro - 5:11) in comparison is perfectly judged, with a light touch that sparkles. Here, as in the preceding movement, I found the audience and environmental noises a little more noticeable than in the other sonatas – a cough, page turning, a creaking floor board audible here and there. This comes through in any noticeable (and hardly disturbing) way only on good and analytical speakers or excellent headphones. His Bösendorfer (Schiff plays the sonatas, depending on their style, on a Bösendorfer or Steinway - although the notes don't tell, this one seems to have been recorded on the former) sounds a bit brittle at times and not particularly round on top. That's quite contrary to the natural Bösendorfer sound, actually, and is more likely a matter of the miking being very close. He finishes the sonata with a very solid but not necessarily memorable Rondo. Poco allegretto e grazioso.
A successful but not miraculous start to what will be a promising if unlikely definitive cycle (all sonatas will be recorded after touring and playing them in numerous live recitals). On its own, the disc – although more expensive than it should be – might well and justifiably appeal to someone looking for the first couple of Beethoven’s sonatas which are not likely to be found so easily outside complete or at least larger collections. Listening and comparing to those four works was a case in point that I have not yet come across a cycle that I enjoy equally in all sonatas (or even all movements) and that even the much adored Kempff mono cycle is hardly the non plus ultra it is sometimes made out to be. Versions I do not have but would have been interested in judging this set against would have been Gulda (either the early recordings on Decca or the later, allegedly even better, recordings now re-issued on Brilliant), Goode (Nonesuch), Brendel III (Philips), and Kovacevich (EMI). And there is, of course, Pollini on the horizon – sooner or later to issue a complete cycle on DG. His un-Romantic, unmannered, and straight-laced approach, coupled with the usual perfection, should be very interesting to hear and might well be the refreshing interpretations that the first four sonatas are yearning for.