Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos 30 - 32

Late Beethoven on an 1828 piano but the playing is no match for Peter Serkin

Author: 
Jed Distler

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos 30 - 32

  • Sonata for Piano No. 30
  • Sonata for Piano No. 31
  • Sonata for Piano No. 32

Imagine the highly inflected, pianistically oriented and sectionalised Beethoven-playing one often heard from Soviet artists such as Maria Grinberg, Maria Yudina, Tatyana Nikolaieva or the younger Gilels or Richter, apply it to an authentic 1828 Alois Graff model instrument, and you’ve largely got the gist of Alexei Lubimov’s interpretations of the last three sonatas. Notice, for example, the hairpin dynamics and tapered phrases in Op 109’s first movement and Op 110’s Allegro molto that seem expressive in and of themselves, yet ultimately dissipate the effect of Beethoven’s sudden, characteristic shifts of loud and soft. The same goes for the Op 109 Prestissimo’s rounded edges, whereas Peter Serkin’s flexibility boasts far more abandon, forward sweep and high-impact bass-lines.

However, Lubimov compensates in the Op 109 variations and Op 110 fugue with fluid tempo relationships and impressive legato phrasing. Following a broad, steady and appropriately bleak Maestoso, Lubimov decisively launches into Op 111’s Allegro con brio ed appassionato, fusing clarity and force along the lines of Paul Badura-Skoda’s superb late-1970s fortepiano recording, yet frequently telegraphing Beethoven’s tempo adjustments. Similarly, Lubimov’s adjustments to the basic pulse undermine the Arietta’s large-scale cumulative trajectory and emotional extremes, lacking Serkin’s exultation and sustained intensity. The intimate, close-up engineering conveys plenty of warmth and tonal variety but, if you can deal with murkier, over-resonant sound, Serkin’s late Beethoven (Musical Concepts) remains the period-instrument point of reference, closely seconded by Ronald Brautigam (BIS).

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