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.
As Austrian pianist Till Fellner has aged, his performance style has naturally matured. This CD of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth piano concertos shows Fellner is still impetuous but more commanding, still virtuosic but less demonstrative, and still playful but less prankish and more thoughtful. His touch is generally light, as in the Fourth's airy closing Vivace, and often legato, as in the Fifth's lyrical central Adagio, but he displays plenty of power in the Fourth's dramatic Andante and the Fifth's mighty opening flourish.
For the final instalment of his survey of Beethoven’s works for piano and orchestra, Ronald Brautigam has saved ‘the final crowning glory of his concerto output’, as Beethoven specialist Barry Cooper describes the Fifth Piano Concerto in his liner notes. It is coupled on this disc with the Choral Fantasia – an intriguing work scored for piano, orchestra and chorus with vocal soloists.
The apparently insatiable Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam continues to gobble up standard and not-so-standard Beethoven with this 2009 disc featuring the composer's Fourth Piano Concerto and the piano transcription of his Violin Concerto, a recording that should please fans of the pianist's previous Beethoven recordings. Performing on a modern concert grand rather than the fortepianos he had favored in some earlier releases, Brautigam delivers readings that sparkle in the outer movements, sing in the central movements, and never resort to technical or emotional grandstanding to make their points.
Ronald Brautigam releases his second disc of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos – this time offering a youthfully fresh Concerto No. 2 which was actually conceived long before the First Piano Concerto. The programme also includes two rarities: the Piano Concerto in E flat major, WoO4, sometimes referred to as Beethoven’s ‘Concerto No.0’, and the Rondo in B flat major, WoO6, composed during the long period of composition of Concerto No.2 and probably at one stage intended as the finale of this work.
As smooth and delicious a performance of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto as has been released since the turn of the century, Ronald Brautigam's account of the work with Andrew Parrott and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra compares with Richter's for sparkle, with Pollini's for cleverness, and with Michelangeli's for liveliness. Brautigam's opening Allegro con brio has velocity and control, his central Largo expressivity and refinement, and his closing Rondo wit and whimsy.