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Customer reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
Beethoven:  The Complete Piano Sonatas
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on 9 November 2017
One of the worst "complete" cycles around. (That Lim excludes the Op 49 sonatas seems a bit of marketing.) Lim's playing is interventionist across the board, which can be fine, but it is scattered and incoherent at times. There are a few high points, like Op 57, but this is not one for the ages.
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on 15 September 2012
HJ Lim has her own ideas. Some of them coincide with Beethoven's, but others simply do not. Why are we treated to a presto section in the middle of the last movement of the Pastoral? There is, indeed, a presto section at the end, but there is no indication that Beethoven wanted the central episode played presto also. And so on. Tempo changes where none are marked and, more important, none are needed, create havoc with Beethoven's logic.

On the positive side, there is something shocking about the playing that must surely have been similar to the effect Beethoven created on his hearers, all those years ago. There is a willfulness and an undoubted technical skill. But in comparison with, say, Buchbinder, whose cycle was released at the same time, the effect is telling. In Buchbinder you hear the endless possibilities of the music itself. Buchbinder's ideas are Beethoven's.

Finally, the recorded sound is a train wreck. I have seldom heart a more wearing recording. At any dynamic above mezzo forte, the treble clangs and whines and the bass jangles. And the overall sound is glaring and harsh. How can Yamaha have used this recording to launch their new model concert grand? They must be embarrassed and ashamed.

A curiosity which I sampled for almost no money on iTunes, but certainly not a bargain. If you're looking for a Beethoven bargain, try the wonderful playing of Luisa-guembes Buchanan, whose 6-disc set of all of late Beethoven's piano works is only 9 euro.
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on 20 April 2015
Imagine a precocious child with no musical background is shown the movie “Beethoven Lives Upstairs.” She’s enchanted with this strange and wonderful composer. She ardently wishes she could play the piano. Suddenly and miraculously, she can. A piano appears before her. On the music rack are the complete Beethoven sonatas. Microphones and a recording engineer are at the ready. In a burst of enthusiasm, she sits down and plays every sonata. (Minus two.) Her playing sometimes goes awry, but she’s too aflutter to notice. The result might sound like HJ Lim’s traversal of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

In Lim’s facile view, Beethoven was a key thumping wild man. But that’s a misleading cliché. Musicians of his time repeatedly commented on the nobility of his playing. He was, they also said, the greatest adagio player of his day. And his architectural sense was peerless. It’s precisely these virtues lacking in Lim’s set.

Hearing these oddly disjointed performances, it’s hard to know what some are raving about. Problems are apparent right out of the gate with the first movement of Op. 2, No. 1. The playing sounds cobbled together from a batch of takes done at various tempos. Further, fast passages are often diffuse and anemic. And this pervades the entire set. Indeed, the most damning criticism of this set is that it sounds insufficiently practiced. Experienced musicians know that a piece can be learned to where it’s almost but not quite there—most of it goes well, but there are still awkward bits that disrupt the natural flow. This is how Lim sounds. Yes, there are patches of fine playing, suggesting she can get around the keys. But there are too many stilted hesitations that make no sense. In any music, such a flaw is a big problem. In Beethoven, the supreme master of musical narrative, it’s fatal.

Also troubling are defects surprising in a concert artist. One is Lim’s aversion to keeping a beat. Of course, not everything needs rigid precision. But surely the Op. 101 second movement (Lebhaft, marschmäßig) demands something more steady than the herky-jerky reading Lim imposes on it. Or consider the Presto from Op. 10 No. 2. This should be a delightful romp whose effect depends on its perpetual motion. Lim, however, injects wee indecisive delays that sap the momentum. Further, she has an annoying habit of suddenly slowing down and then speeding up into fast passages. An egregious example is when she hits the Appassionata’s third movement coda. Here she comes to a crashing halt on the half notes chords (holding them for twice their notated value) and then fitfully lurches her way out of them. How Lim squares this lead-footed effect with the score’s “presto” marking is a mystery.

Equally troubling, Lim cleaves to a “one size fits all” approach throughout, regardless of what piece she’s playing. She has a habit of pausing on downbeats, which is annoying in pieces that should dance. She often also ignores rests and note stemming that convey phrasing and articulation, making a gooey sludge of lines that, with more attentive playing, would sound almost like speech.

In a quick survey of the five star reviews, many praise Lim’s fast tempos. (Some claim she’s following Beethoven’s metronome markings, apparently unaware that he gave them for only one of his piano sonatas.) Is unbridled speed the hallmark of a great performance? Do we apply that criterion to any other performing art? For example, do we revere actors who can recite lines the fastest? By that daft standard, auctioneers would be our best actors. But since we’re talking about speed, it’s worth noting that Ronald Brautigam, Michael Korstick, and Stewart Goodyear all play the Appassionata third movement faster and with more assurance than Lim. So why the fuss over Lim?

Recording all the Beethoven piano sonatas (or most of them) is a massive undertaking, and I don’t minimize its difficulty. But other pianists have done it without sounding as though they’re in over their heads. Lim should at least rise to that standard. Yet try as I might to hear a bold and thoughtful voice, I instead hear a callow artist who’s rushed into a role for which she’s unready.

It bodes ill that Lim’s belief in her readiness to record the Beethoven sonatas falls so far short of reality. One must question how well she knows the legacy of Beethoven recordings. Does she honestly think her playing can stand alongside Wilhelm Backhaus, Annie Fischer, Claude Frank, Emil Gilels, Friedrich Gulda, or Sviatoslav Richter? Nor does her playing compare favorably to lesser known but worthy sets by Abdel Rahman El Bacha, Maria Grinberg, Eric Heidsieck, and John Lill. Even among more recent sets—Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Ronald Brautigam, Stewart Goodyear, Michael Korstick, and Andrea Lucchesini come to mind—her playing falls short. And considering that some fine sets can be had for a pittance, even the low price of Lim’s set is no incentive.

What’s the thinking that went into this release? Do the decision makers at Warner Classics believe this set is in any way comparable to other distinguished Beethoven piano sonata complete sets? If so, then they’ve exposed themselves as musical moths, drawn to glitter rather than artistry. There’s a prevailing sense of slapdash haste to get this onto the market, regardless of its flaws. In a better world, someone would’ve nixed this project before it started, and nudged Lim into something more congenial to her way of playing.

This entire project reeks of marketing. Take, for example, the gushing over completing this set at age 24. Well, both Gulda and Barenboim began their first sets at roughly the same age. Unlike Lim, however, they were wise enough to take time. Lim, in her haste to grab a shiny prize, sprinted through her recording sessions so she could claim to be the youngest to record all the Beethoven piano sonatas. What a boffo advertising coup! Let’s ignore that she didn’t record all the sonatas. And let’s not carp over how the music suffered in the process. Let’s also ignore that an even younger Mélodie Zhao beat Lim’s record a mere two years later. Just keep the publicity train chugging. Maybe the ballyhoo will distract everyone from noticing that nary a thought was given to actual artistry.

To be clear, showmanship isn’t the problem. Leonard Bernstein was a showman from head to toe, but his showmanship was welded to an iron integrity. I recall a Young People’s Concert in which he led the New York Philharmonic in a deliberately overwrought performance of Haydn. He then turned to the audience and said: “So you think that’s beautiful—what you’ve just been listening to? Well, I’ve got news for you, it isn’t. Now you may have found the noises we’ve been making very pretty ones, perhaps even moving. But they are not the sound of Haydn. They are the sound of an orchestra showing off.” Bernstein was a showman, but he didn’t pander. That’s a distinction Lim and her enablers would do well to learn.

The shame of it is that Lim might have done something worthy. She has ideas, some of them possibly good. But she doesn’t hone them into a compelling and coherent narrative. Everything here sounds like a brainstorming session, where ideas are tossed about without yet knowing what to do with them. So we’re left to sift through her rough-hewn ideas and imagine the good she might have done. She’s too enthralled with charisma to heed the rigors of real artistry.

This set is a potential career killer. It reveals a concert artist who lacks self-awareness. In the first flush of public acclaim, it’s easy for a young player to mistake hype for a validation of one’s artistry. One hopes Lim will stop listening to those who fancy her an artistic Midas. Somewhere, dear God, let there be knowing voices who offer advice on how to become something more than a media darling. Perhaps Lim may find the wisdom to heed them.

Or perhaps not. In an interview Lim declared: “The most important thing in art is to express oneself.” I wish she wasn’t so sure of this, because it’s not true. (Toddlers throwing tantrums are expressing themselves.) It’s far more important to say something worth saying. If Lim better understood this, she might discover that Beethoven’s music has a higher purpose than her navel-gazing. But that may be asking too much of her. It might be that Lim knows her particular audience well, and cheerfully gives them what they want. If so, then she’ll continue to flip her hair, stare soulfully at the ceiling, and maul rhythm and tempo in the name of self-expression. Everyone aboard the bandwagon can go on their bedazzled way.

And Beethoven can go to hell.
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on 27 January 2013
As a South Korean concert pianist, I decided to give this album a listen as I found it startling that a 20something pianist would debut with a complete recording of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas. The performances are bizarre and that is all that I can say about them. The interpretations are erratic, tasteless and contain hideous rubato that would even put Lang Lang's to shame. Most of the sonatas are rushed through at extreme speeds. The entire recording sounds like a composition program playing back the music at a fast forwarded speed.
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on 5 September 2012
I do not intend to waste any more of your time on this veritable catastrophe than is absolutely necessary, but the Beethoven's Piano Sonatas are so close to my heart that I cannot allow such blatant disrespect for such beautiful music to go unchallenged.

First of all, when a pianist - any pianist! - implies in the liner notes of their "complete" Beethoven Sonatas that the two Op. 49 sonatas were omitted because "they don't count," I cannot but regard such incredible presumption as criminally unjust to those unfamiliar with this music. If you have not already heard Beethoven's Op. 49 sonatas, let me assure you that they are, in their Haydenesque charm and grace, simply marvellous beyond measure!

In the light of the above logic - propounded by that great Beethoven scholar, HJ Lim, all of 20-something years young! - why not commission a "complete" set of Beethoven's Symphonies... minus that understated and unnecessarily lyrical 6th Symphony... you know, to keep that "fresh, new vision" rolling?

EMI really needs to hang its head in shame for allowing such an atrocity!

And secondly - after suffering through 8 excerpts of these painfully crude and comic interpretations; I could not bear to hear more! - I can do no better to state my case against these heinous performances than to quote no less a Beethoven scholar than Alfred Brendel on the subject of the performer as classical music interpreter:

"If I belong to a tradition it is a tradition that makes the masterpiece tell the performer what he should do and not the performer telling the piece what it should be like, or the composer what he ought to have composed."

And finally:

"Every piece has a structure, but it also has its own character. Each piece has its own personality, with different qualities, capabilities and frailties, but there's a borderline that closes the character; outside that borderline, the character doesn't exist. The same applies to a piece of music. Within the borderlines there's a certain amount of freedom for the player, but if you don't recognize the borderlines, and overstep and ignore them, you misrepresent and falsify the piece."

No, there is no "right" way to play Beethoven, but there are such things as responsibility, respect and taste! Only purchase complete recordings of Beethoven's piano sonatas - unedited by presumptuous, self aggrandizing "artists" who have no authority to deny anyone the right to hear all of these masterpieces - and you cannot go far wrong. Profound respect for this music can be found in masterful performances by Brendel, Kempff and Gilels, but more adventurous listeners may want to consider Pollini, Barenboim or the marvellous ongoing cycle by Bavouzet as possible alternatives.
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on 26 August 2014
Very good. Reports of excessive speeds exaggerated. Have versions I prefer of individual sonatas, but that's always going to be the case. Would prefer chronological order to the sonata sequence, rather than Lim's quirky thematic concept. Don't miss sonatas 19 and 20 at all. Overall. well worth buying.
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on 26 July 2012
This is the worst interpretation of the sonatas I have ever had the misfortune to hear. All surface glitter and fizz, there is next to no musicality or real empathy with the music. Technical ability is just the start of a good performance, but with Lim there is little else there. I attended Lim's recent performance at the Wigmore Hall, at which she absolutely slaughtered the Hammerklavier sonata - it was one of the most depressing musical experiences of my life. The sad thing is that Lim is obviously being heavily promoted by EMI, no doubt because she is young and photogenic. It even turned out that the Wigmore Hall had not commissioned her to play, but that the Hall had been hired, probably by EMI. If only they had to taste to get behind some of the marvellous young musicians that are out there, who struggle to get an audience because they are judged as lacking glamour.
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on 21 January 2013
I recently purchased this CD, a few years or so after discovering what I thought was my ideal complete Beethoven sonata cycle, that by Paul Lewis.

I wouldn't want to be without the Paul Lewis set, but this is in an altogether different category. I have never heard Beethoven played like this, it's so fresh, never a moment that doesn't seem completely, almost electrically charged. Hands down the most interesting Beethoven that I've ever heard. At many moments I felt that I was listening to the composer himself. The piano sound is bright but recorded superbly.

It is pointless identifying individual sonatas in this set because they're all so brilliant and different to anything that I've heard before, I think that they demand further listening by anyone who is remotely interested in Beethoven! (No pressure though!)

A 5+ star rating seems the only way to respond to this incredibly woman. I can't imagine anyone regretting buying this.
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on 27 July 2012
In response to a. Zimmerman:
I am in total disagreement with you. I think that the interpretations of HJ Lim, are actually stimulant with a new vision of the music of Beethoven. To those who only like the interpretations in the classic way, there are dozens of versions on the market.
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VINE VOICEon 29 January 2013
I am not a musician but I think this is amazing.If you like classical piano, and like Beethoven then this is a must for your collection. The whole collection went straight onto my mp3 player and gets played almost weekly. Very good value for money.
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