46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Where to start? I purchased this set on the recommendation of the manager of the classical CD department at a local CD store. We chat often about CDs, and this particular day, the conversation turned to the Beethoven piano sonatas, and he told me "You have to try this set. It's not like anything you've ever heard." Intrigued, I gave it a try.
Upon getting home to listen, I chose a familiar middle-period sonata to get my bearings - I chose the Apassionata. Within the first minute of the first movement I was transfixed in enjoyment and amazement. There are so many great performances of this piece, but this was indeed different from anything I had ever heard. I kept waiting for the usual problems I hear in most performances. Minor problems for sure, but always there nonetheless, such as too much pause after a phrase, or a tendency towards becoming mechanical and clangorous in the dense sections. But it never happened. The piece just kept pouring out with the most intricate passages seeming to stand still before me. To me, the performance seemed to transcend the usual adjectives one hears in reference to the Beethoven sonatas, such as "warm" and "lyrical" on one hand, or "granite-like" on the other. Rather it was as if all artificial coloration had been stripped away, and what was left was pure music, the perfect expression of the soul of the music. Kuerti plays from an utterly centered place, from which he uses supernatural control of articulation, dynamics, phrasing, to bring out music that is crystal clear and beyond words.
My next stop was the last movement of the Hammerklavier - the fugue. The Hammerklavier is one of my favorite pieces of music in the entire literature, but not the last movement in particular, because I'd never heard it performed well. I've only heard it in performances that are too harsh to enjoy. I've always felt there was a way to play it right - to bring it out correctly, but that I'd never heard a performance that achieved this. From the opening bars, my jaw dropped at Kuerti's performance. This movement opens with a number of short "episodes" before the main fugue is joined. These episodes usally sound like a "warmup" before the artist gets to the main show. In Kuerti's hands I was immediately transported to another world. There was a spirituality and profound peace that was palpable. It felt like Beethoven was in the room with me and Kuerti. (More on what I mean by this at the end!)
This experience of Kuerti's interpretations completely transcending anything I've previously heard was repeated again and again. Case in point - the Diabelli Variations. I purchased Pollini's CD a while back with high hopes. But I listened only once, and it has not come off the shelf since. But just a few minutes of Kuerti's performance, and I was entranced and immensly enjoying the music.
Everything in this set is a revelation! The feeling I get time and again when listening to these performances, especially the late sonatas, is that Beethoven is in the room. It's not that Kuerti disappears, and I hear Beethoven playing. It's more a feeling of Kuerti playing, me listening, and Beethoven is in the room, standing next to the piano, head bowed in concentration, smiling to himself, thinking that "this, finally, is right - this is how I meant it."
To me, these are performances of the highest artistry imagineable. If you love Beethoven's piano sonatas, and you're always searching for something more than what you've heard, you owe it to yourself to hear these performances!