As both composer and performing virtuoso, the piano was central to Beethoven’s life. However, his relationship with the instrument turned out to be a love-hate affair and few, if any models satisfied him. He wrote to the piano manufacturer, Johann Streicher that ‘the pianoforte is still the least studied and least developed of all instruments’. On the other hand, could the pianos of Beethoven’s time withstand the elemental power and dynamism of his home grown keyboard technique and passionate, uncouth performing style? By all accounts Beethoven took to the piano as a tornado descends upon a modest frame house, frequently leaving behind a trail of broken strings and stuck hammers and shaking up his colleagues in the wake.
The two sonatas featured on this release charted unprecedented paths of sonority and virtuosity, although the musical and pianistic aims radically differ. Ashkenazy re-recorded them both the ‘Hammerklavier’ for his complete Beethoven sonata cycle and the ‘Waldstein’ as a digital remake for a separate CD. The rare and much sought-after 1967 recording of the ‘Hammerklavier’ – Ashkenazy’s first of any Beethoven sonata for Decca – is sharply delineated and full of tensile energy, the fugal finale’s gnarlier sequences more incisively articulated than his later remake.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein’
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’
Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano
‘the most totally satisfying pianist of his generation. Even in this immense and sprawling score he succeeds (as few have done) in making every note [of the ‘Hammerklavier’] a moment of passage, every phrase an urging toward the next’ New York magazine