Picks and Pans Review: Beethoven: Sonatas Nos. 22, 24, 25 & 27
For all the daring, exquisite intellectuality of Beethoven's music, it can't be played without as much soul as brains. No pianist of this century brought more godlike grandeur and animal passion to Beethoven than Austrian Artur Schnabel. His five-volume rendition of the complete piano sonatas, recorded between 1932 and 1937, stands as an artistic monument and a phenomenal bargain (it's still available on a budget label). Since Schnabel's death in 1951, Beethomaniacs have searched for an inheritor. Owing more to an abundance of talent than to a dearth, no dominant figure has emerged. But if you're willing to settle for two, try Ashkenazy and Ax. Not only do they rival Schnabel for vision, grace and emotional range, they flat-out top him in overall technique. These are "middle"-period sonatas—innovative works more entertaining and accessible than the climactic, brooding late sonatas. For the Russian-born Ashkenazy, 43, they represent a masterful 13th volume of a projected complete Beethoven piano cycle. The Polish-born Ax is a little earthier than Ashkenazy, and a little weightier in tone. At 31, he is only on his second Beethoven release.