Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas Nos. 1–3. Variations
Markus Becker (pn)
HYPERION 67977 (64:27)
Markus Becker has recorded a broad range of music, from Bach to the 21st century, including one piece of his own. More than a decade ago, he recorded the complete piano music of Max Reger on 12 Thorofon discs (no longer available). In a series of
reviews (Volumes 22:6 to 25:5), I found that his Reger varied from
unsatisfactory (the giant sets of variations) to excellent. Becker has been a frequent chamber music partner, for which one German critic called him “a musical soul painter.” That phrase fits well here. In the notes to this disc, Malcolm MacDonald refers to these 1936 piano sonatas as “the ideal medium for private meditation at troubled times, and the vehicle for a more philosophical probing into the nature of music itself.” Nazi authorities prohibited Gieseking’s premiere performance of the First Sonata and any future Hindemith premiere. On March 12, 1934, Furtwängler had led the first performance of the “Mathis der Maler” Symphony; the A-Major First Sonata could be thought of as its piano equivalent. From its opening chords, Becker’s playing is weighty and thoughtful. His readings are similar to those of Hans Petermandl, my long-time favorite interpreter of Hindemith’s piano music, but Becker is more potent, with a mighty left hand that I find most appropriate, and Hyperion’s sound is richer and deeper than Petermandl’s 1990 digital Marco Polo recordings.
Recordings of Hindemith’s sonatas have included some of the great pianists, among them Glenn Gould and Sviatoslav Richter (in the Second Sonata), yet I have always felt that something was missing, that the music had more to offer. Becker finds it all, coming close to Richter’s astonishing virtuosity and surpassing him in musical relevance. The Third Sonata’s closing fugue is so magnificent here that it is a shame to follow it with the Variations, the discarded second movement of the First Sonata.
Becker plays the finest Steinway I have heard in years; it is rock solid in the bottom octaves, as we expect from that eminent firm; its top is clean and bright, and the whole is exceptionally well balanced. I seem to be filling all my Want List positions early this year, but I can’t imagine anything that could push this CD out of the top five. I urge all music lovers, no matter what you think of Hindemith, to hear this magnificent disc.
FANFARE: James H. North
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