Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly – very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and – horror vacui – the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year.
ECM New Series is better known for its documentation of contemporary works, but the music of the past sometimes receives coverage when artists bring a new perspective to it. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111; and the Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, are among the most original and intellectually stimulating works Ludwig van Beethoven composed for the piano, and the sophisticated interpretations of András Schiff are especially worthwhile for their insights into authentic performance practice and reception. Here, Schiff gives the listener options between a relatively modern sounding version of the Diabelli Variations and a period interpretation, without favoring one or the other.
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet returns for the second volume of his survey of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. The project, set to conclude with Vol. 3 in 2014, runs alongside his complete recording of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas. Vol. 1 of the Beethoven series was critically acclaimed, BBC Music calling the performances ‘distinguished and virtuosic’ and Fanfare remarking that ‘his readings will withstand the test of time’. In this release Bavouzet performs the sonatas published between 1800 and 1804.
Olga Pashchenko is in the process of creating a unique place for herself in the world of the keyboard: she moves with astounding ease and skill from the harpsichord to the fortepiano, the organ and the modern piano. After a recording of Beethoven’s variations in 2015 (awarded ffff by Télérama), the young pianist has now gone to the legendary Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, a venue she knows well since she regularly gives concerts within its walls, to record three monuments of the pianistic literature – the Appassionata, Les Adieux and Waldstein sonatas – on the original Conrad Graf piano of 1824 conserved there. She utilises all the sonic possibilities and the full palette of colours of this instrument made around fifteen years after the composition of these sonatas, three of the finest in the corpus of thirty-two that Hans von Bülow called ‘the New Testament of every pianist’.