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 Recording of the Week  Beethoven Piano Sonatas

I think I’ve mentioned in previous weeks the vast swathe of Handel recordings we’ve been enjoying this year; well now it's Beethoven Piano Sonatas that everyone seems to be doing. Already this year András Schiff has reached volume 4 of his series, while Angela Hewitt recently released her volume 2. Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire has just released a disc on Decca (which will hopefully turn into a series as it certainly has something new to say) while American Garrick Ohlsson recently released his volume 3 following critical acclaim for Volumes 1 and 2. We’ve got Mitsuko Uchida’s Volume 2 coming out next month and Paul Lewis’s Volume 3 coming in September. And that's not even mentioning Ronald Brautigam’s fortepiano cycle on BIS which has just reached volume 5.

So why so many, and which ones should we be particularly excited by?

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas are one of the cornerstones of the Piano repertoire. They are the sort of pieces that pianists know they will be judged by in future generations, and have therefore always been well-recorded. All the great pianists have recorded them from Arthur Schnabel to Wilhelm Kempff and Alfred Brendel (twice!).

Of the current crop I see it very much as a mixed bag. András Schiff I like very much, but they are live recordings and I wouldn’t say particularly well recorded. There is far too much acoustic and on a modern piano, which already lacks the clarity of the piano that Beethoven wrote for, I think something is lost. Angela Hewitt is a non-starter for me – great in Baroque but too clinical for Beethoven. Nelson Freire I would like to hear more of, and Garrick Ohlsson seems to combine the power and authority of a great pianist without over-romanticising. I’ve always found Mitsuko Uchida’s sound a little brittle, but really enjoyed her first volume of the late sonatas.

Paul Lewis has got to be my first choice at the moment. He is such a complete musician and his performances are utterly compelling. But Ronald Brautigam on fortepiano is well worth dipping into as well. You can really imagine this as the sound that Beethoven imagined. A real eye-opener for me - not normally a fan of the fortepiano – but with such a good instrument, so well recorded and really outstanding playing you should hear one of these even if you don’t go on to collect the cycle.

Discs mentioned above:

Beethoven - The Piano Sonatas (Volume 4)

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Beethoven - Piano Sonatas Volume 2

Available Format: CD

Beethoven - Piano Sonatas

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Beethoven - Piano Sonatas Volume 3

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Beethoven - Piano Sonatas Volume 3

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Beethoven - Complete Works for Solo Piano Volume 5

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC