Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 29,
Rudolf Serkin (pn)
Live: London 5/13/1968;
Both of these performances were recorded in London’s Royal Festival Hall in concert, the “Hammerklavier”
monaurally in 1968, No. 31 in stereo three years later. The mono sound is certainly more than acceptable, its minor shortcomings being a soft, but almost always discernable tape hiss in the background and a slight lack of presence in the piano. By contrast, No. 31 is sonically as good as anything accorded Serkin in the studio: close in perspective, with great impact, accurate in timbre, and free of the tonal thinness that sometimes marred the pianist’s studio efforts.
Often, an artist will be more comfortable and daring before an audience than in the comparative isolation of the recording studio. But what is quite striking about this live “Hammerklavier” is how similar it is to Serkin’s studio account. Reviewing that version in its CD reissue (16/2), I suggested it lacked some of the animation that, in general, marked Serkin’s earlier recordings of Beethoven’s other works. I no longer feel this way. Though without the wonderful thrust projected by Solomon in the first movement, Serkin manages there to generate a tension and grandeur that are equally apt. Save for a few minor technical slips before an audience, this live account is almost identical to the studio effort. Indeed, so similar are the two versions of the second movement, they can virtually be synchronized. In short, for those owning the admirable studio reading, this live performance will offer nothing startling, especially as its sound, though more than acceptable, is no match for Sony’s fine CD transfer of the original LP. The situation is similar, if not identical, for this No. 31, because few departures in tempo exist between this and his two earlier accounts (1960 and 1971) for Columbia. A 1989 DG release of a 1987 performance, which Serkin did not want issued, is inferior to any of his earlier efforts with this work, and should be avoided. What may attract some to this release is the superb stereo sound accorded the performance, as sonically fine a representation of Serkin’s tone as any I have ever heard. It should have particular appeal to Serkin enthusiasts.
FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank
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