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Reviews: Beethoven: Complete Sonatas & Variations - Haimovitz, O'Riley

Reviews: 1

Review by steviev February 7, 2015 (8 of 9 found this review helpful)
Sonics:  
If forced to guess the performers' age based on playing style alone in Beethoven's early Opus 5 sonatas, I'd estimate early twenties, tops. Tempos are fleet, accents fierce, tonal beauty ever-yielding to passionate expression, breathless and impatient forward momentum always. In fact the performers look to be in their mid forties. Their maturity is apparent in the greater patience they take to clarify the complex, wayward structures of the three later sonatas, whilst still reveling in the fierce expression and unbuttoned élan of Beethoven's more extrovert pages, like the concluding fugue of Sonata No. 5. All repeats are taken.

Mr. Haimovitz plays an old cello strung with gut, so his tone is chewy, resiny, sometimes gritty. He usually vibrates on long notes, while eschewing it on occasion for expressive purposes. He plays in tune at all times, though his strong attacks and hard bow pressure compromise tonal beauty -- by design, certainly. He digs deep on Beethoven's frequent bass passages, producing an intonational fuzziness bordering on percussive.

Mr. O'Riley plays a beautiful 1823 pianoforte built by Broadwood, Beethoven's favorite piano manufacturer. The instrument speaks with a twangy spinet-like treble, clear sweet midrange, and thick and wooly bass as strong as a modern piano but not as clear. The una corda pedal, which on a modern piano merely muffles the tone, produces on the Broadwood a cloudy, silvery music-box effect in the treble range that's simply not possible on a modern piano. So for the first time we might be hearing the pianissimo passages as Beethoven intended -- and the effect is quite striking and magical.

The performers are placed in the center of the soundstage, with no significant stereo separation between them, and there's a modicum of reverb, much like you'd hear in a small club. Bass is strong and realistic, befitting the artists' bottom-heavy approach to these works. Much of the pleasure of this recording comes from savoring the Broadwood's diverse tonal registers alongside the earthy vigor of the gut-strung cello. Mr. Haimovitz does breathe heavily on occasion; I don't find it distracting.

This is the only SACD multichannel recording of Beethoven's complete music for cello and piano on period instruments -- both performers and Pentatone have set a towering standard here, likely definitive. Highly recommended, especially for listeners who think they don't like period instruments.

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