Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 32 etc
Both these new CD versions of Beethoven's last sonata feature Bosendorfer Imperials, but it is the American recording from Delos, made in the Bridges Auditorium, Claremont, California, which with thrilling fullness and realism captures the instrument's distinctive sound. David Fanning noted in his review of the Gulda LP that the upper register acquired a slightly glassy quality, and that is just as apparent on CD, with a hint of twanginess on sforzandos that does not quite sound real. I also subscribe on DKF's reservations about the Arietta, persistently earthbound in its steady flow, not a question of choice of speeds but rather one of rhythm and excessively even stressing. The plain, rather gruff directness of the first movement I certainly enjoy, but there too I find it odd that a pianist who has been active in the world of jazz should in his classical playing invite any sort of suspicion of inflexibility. There is a rock-like quality too in Gulda's own massive and thick-textured but severe piece, Wintermeditation. In its simpler moments it reminds me of my own improvisatory doodling at the keyboard, which is not encouraging, but with a number of clever effects involving fingers on strings inside the lid it is certainly eventful, and draws from the composer a performance of obvious concentration and commitment.
On the rival version of Op. 111 Carol Rosenberger gives a reading which in its unmannered directness reminds me of Bernard Roberts's LP recordings of Beethoven sonatas for Nimbus. Both in Op. 111 and in the Appassionata I like the way that Rosenberger—whose thoughtfulness and perception are well witnessed in her own sleeve-note—conveys expressive warmth in slow movements without distortion of rhythm or phrase. The Arietta is made sweetly lyrical rather than monumental and, by the standards set in rival versions, is a light-weight reading. Similarly the outer movements of the Appassionata and the first movement of Op. 111, for all their intelligence and concentration, finally lack the spark of individuality, which at its most extreme produces so idiosyncratic a reading as Pogorelich's. My own favourite version of Op. 111 on CD is Barenboim's new DG reading, though at the moment that is available only as part of his complete series.'