Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler already enjoyed a worldwide legendary standing during his lifetime he was considered the German conductor and performances were greeted with rapturous applause. Today, more than 50 years after his death, Wilhelm Furtwängler is still an icon and his work has become an integral part of the music scene.
The Vienna Philharmonic is one of the world's leading recording orchestras. Ever since its very first recording of Beethoven's 6th Symphony under Franz Schalk in 1928, work in the studio has taken up a considerable part of its "free time", which is, on account of its duties at the Vienna State Opera, in any case very limited. There are not many major 20th-century conductors, many important works of the operatic and concert repertory, or indeed many important labels that do not figure in its large and comprehensive disco-graphy.
This disc presents one of the 20th century's greatest and most distinctive pianists in music of two pianist-composers, Schumann and Beethoven, who were among his most treasured specialties. The playing is fluent, brilliant without ever being flashy, and phrased and accented with a totally unique flavor. Kempff has power to spare, but he uses it with a restraint that heightens its impact.
This SACD transfer of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven violin sonatas, taken from a series of live recordings from 1998, does not transcend the questionable interpretations. In each of these famous sonatas, Mutter takes excessive liberties with respect to dynamics and phrasing, and while some listeners may appreciate the thought and care she puts into these readings, it sounds as if she is trying a bit too hard to be “musical”. For example, just before the exposition repeat of the “Spring” sonata, several instances of disproportionate agogic pauses, inconsistent use of vibrato, random adherences to sforzando markings, and a sporadic disregard for (or recasting of) dynamics combine to produce an overly fussy performance that lacks momentum and a sense of direction.
Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev has an astoundingly clean and virtuosic technique. He has the ability to bring out inner voices that in some other recordings are completely lost. These skills are sometimes enough to make his interpretations of these three early and middle period Beethoven sonatas completely satisfying. The third movement of the "Moonlight" Sonata, for example, is absolutely electrifying in its virtuosity. The first movement of the"Waldstein" and the final movement of "Appassionata" are brisk, energetic, and always completely under control. Movements such as these, where the performer's technique truly comes to the forefront, are absolutely satisfying here.