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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 1 - 32 / Wilhelm Backhaus


Release Date: 05/25/1999 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 433882   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus
Number of Discs: 8 
Recorded in: Mixed 
Length: 9 Hours 2 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Wilhelm Backhaus recorded Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas in mono for Decca in the early 1950s, and with the advent of stereo he began the process anew in 1958. Although he managed to finish 31 out of the 32, the pianist died before he got around to remaking the Hammerklavier (Op. 106). Consequently, the mono Hammerklavier fills out Backhaus’ stereo cycle that Decca now reissues in its Original Masters series.

Although numerous piano mavens hold Backhaus’ Beethoven in high, nearly iconic esteem, I’ve always had mixed reactions to these recordings. In general, the pianist’s cavalier attitude toward Beethoven’s dynamics, articulation, and phrasing obscures the composer’s clearly specified linear trajectory and implicit
Read more drama. Slow movements tend to be perfunctorily brisk and overly loud (the pianist rarely achieves a true pianissimo), and many repeats are omitted. I also suspect that the stylistic anachronisms characterizing Backhaus’ pianism (de-synchronized hands, added bass octaves, arpeggiated chords) arise more out of habit than intent.

Furthermore, most comparisons between the present set and Backhaus’ mono versions (last available as Japanese imports) reveal the pianist’s fingers to be past their once unassailable prime. Op. 10 No. 2’s finale, Op. 10 No. 3’s charging octaves, Op. 27 No. 2’s scampering passages, and the last three sonatas illustrate my point. The Op. 81a “Les Adieux” sonata is as heavy handed and pounded out as the pianist’s earlier HMV shellac edition was musically forthright and technically shipshape. The sharp accentuation and dry wit that dissimilar pianists like Goode and Kempff bring out in Op. 31 No. 1’s first movement fall by the wayside in Backhaus’ overly robust interpretation.

However, despite my cavils, you cannot deny Backhaus’ sincerity, his ripe, well-modulated sonority, and the communicative immediacy he often achieves. In this sense, the three so-called “name” sonatas (Pathétique, Moonlight, and Appassionata) succeed with little qualification, and so does the Waldstein (with first-movement repeat intact!). And it was a joy to reconnect with Backhaus’ deeply felt and well played renditions of Op. 90 and Op. 101.

Rehearing the 1952 Hammerklavier led me to rethink and respect (if not love) Backhaus’ tough-skinned, grantic sobriety, which reminds me of Rudolf Serkin, albeit without the latter’s raw-nerve intensity and linear cogency. When all is said and done, it’s important that the work of this highly regarded keyboard master is accessible to students, music lovers, and scholars alike–and the pianist’s admirers also will welcome this reissue with open arms.

-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
reviewing this set previously reissued as Decca 4757198

Recorded 1958-1969; Op. 106 recorded 1952. Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 2 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793-1795; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Sonata for Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 2 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Sonata for Piano no 3 in C major, Op. 2 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Sonata for Piano no 4 in E flat major, Op. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796-1797; Vienna, Austria 
5.
Sonata for Piano no 5 in C minor, Op. 10 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795-1797; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Sonata for Piano no 6 in F major, Op. 10 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796-1797; Vienna, Austria 
7.
Sonata for Piano no 7 in D major, Op. 10 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Sonata for Piano no 8 in C minor, Op. 13 "Pathétique" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797-1798; Vienna, Austria 
9.
Sonata for Piano no 9 in E major, Op. 14 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1798; Vienna, Austria 
10.
Sonata for Piano no 10 in G major, Op. 14 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1799; Vienna, Austria 
11.
Sonata for Piano no 11 in B flat major, Op. 22 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
12.
Sonata for Piano no 12 in A flat major, Op. 26 "Funeral March" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800-1801; Vienna, Austria 
13.
Sonata for Piano no 13 in E flat major, Op. 27 no 1 "Quasi una fantasia" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800-1801; Vienna, Austria 
14.
Sonata for Piano no 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 no 2 "Moonlight" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801; Vienna, Austria 
15.
Sonata for Piano no 15 in D major, Op. 28 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801; Vienna, Austria 
16.
Sonata for Piano no 16 in G major, Op. 31 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1802; Vienna, Austria 
17.
Sonata for Piano no 17 in D minor, Op. 31 no 2 "Tempest" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1802; Vienna, Austria 
18.
Sonata for Piano no 18 in E flat major, Op. 31 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1802; Vienna, Austria 
19.
Sonata for Piano no 19 in G minor, Op. 49 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1797; Vienna, Austria 
20.
Sonata for Piano no 20 in G major, Op. 49 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1796; Vienna, Austria 
21.
Sonata for Piano no 21 in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803-1804; Vienna, Austria 
22.
Sonata for Piano no 22 in F major, Op. 54 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804; Vienna, Austria 
23.
Sonata for Piano no 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804-1805; Vienna, Austria 
24.
Sonata for Piano no 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
25.
Sonata for Piano no 25 in G major, Op. 79 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
26.
Sonata for Piano no 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a "Les Adieux" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809-1810; Vienna, Austria 
27.
Sonata for Piano no 27 in E minor, Op. 90 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
28.
Sonata for Piano no 28 in A major, Op. 101 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
29.
Sonata for Piano no 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1817-1818; Vienna, Austria 
30.
Sonata for Piano no 30 in E major, Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1820; Vienna, Austria 
31.
Sonata for Piano no 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 
32.
Sonata for Piano no 32 in C minor, Op. 111 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Wilhelm Backhaus (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 

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