Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas / Daniel Barenboim
There is one reason to buy this cycle and that is the Hammerklavier. I rate Barenboim's performance of this sonata, the Op 106, as one of the major achievements in the history of piano playing. Especially the third movement, the adagio, is performed in such a manner that it beggars belief, the sheer beauty of it, the intensity of it, the tragedy of it... it is all brought out by Barenboim in masterly fashion. Here, in the adagio, is where Barenboim's slow playing connects perfectly with the score. The rest of this cycle is not anything I ever listen to anymore.
Epic collection with one major flaw
What flaw you're wondering? The slow moments are just too slow. It's not that I'm against slow music if that's what you're wondering, but Beethoven surely didn't mean for this music to be played at such tortoise paced speeds. I have heard at least 2or 3 renditions by other pianists of the slow movements and they are all faster. Barenboim surely meant to play these at his own peculiar tempo. Whether to be "iconoclastic" or not I think he misses the mark. Listening to the Waldesntein finale is excrutiatingly frustrating. Playing it more slowly does not add to the emotional impact at all, quite the opposite as you spend more time subconsciously urging on the dozy pianist closer to Beethovens intended vision.
Other than that, this set is great. Although recorded in the late 60s, the (stereo) sound is clear and crisp. The microphone sounds like it's placed at an ideal position not so far away as to sound distant and cold, not too near to near get that "can't see the wood for the trees" effect similar to viewing a painting too close up.
As for the music itself, Beethoven was one of the first composers to fully explore the *dynamic* possibilities of the instrument, rather the "alternative harpsichord" attitude that had prevailed before. So rather than relying on an endless run of pleasant little ditties he's not afraid to throw in some fortissimo chords in, which might wake you up with a bang if you have this of for "relaxation". The piano was arguably Beethovens instrument of choice for his deepest personal expression,so expect a wide range of moods contained herein. There is as you may expect the typical minor key excurions into almost mystical melancholy and fear, but he wasn't averse to a bit of playfulness here and there. It's quite a rollercoaster ride for the emotions.
The box itself is quite spartan in presentation. 10 CDs in individual cardboard sleeves showing a detail of Barenboim at the piano. One booklet with liner notes explaining the history of most of the famous sonatas.
So overall,good for the price. However, for the slow movements you may want to look elsewhere for more satisfying performances.
I've owned many Beethoven sonatas, but never before a complete set - the good price won me. I have no way of judging whether this now elderly set cuts the mustard with newer sets or versions by other great pianists. All I know is this; this is extraordinary music, of great depth and expression. It is typical Beethoven, meaty, rock-solid stuff that knows exactly where it's going and gets there. That Daniel Barenboim gets across this message means (to me anyway) that it must be good.
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