Haydn’s Piano Sonatas (he composed more than 50, but academics lack certainty about the provenance of some) must be of all the great bodies of “core repertoire” still one of the least programmed. Respected by all but advanced by fewer, the Sonatas perhaps suffer from being perceived as too intimate for larger concert halls, too athletically lacklustre for the endless competition circuit, and thus difficult to market.
Whatever the justification for this neglect, the Sonatas have fared better on disc. In particular, John McCabe’s celebrated complete survey for Decca in the 1970’s has long been, for me at least, not simply a benchmark interpretation but one of my most treasured piano boxed sets.
There have been some fine recordings of Haydn in more recent years, too, notably from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Yevgeny Sudbin and Paul Lewis, but none so far that have compelled me to loosen my grip on my beloved McCabe set. Until now.
SOMM have just released the fourth volume in British pianist Leon McCawley’s ongoing cycle, and in my view it is shaping up to be a new milestone, The One to go for in this increasingly populated field…
In the conclusion to my recent review of Bärenreiter’s recently published Jonathan Del Mar edition of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, I noted,
“With the appearance of Jonathan Del Mar’s new benchmark edition for Bärenreiter, we have less of an excuse than ever when it comes to understanding and interpreting the master’s intentions… This magnificent resource is surely not only a new landmark in Beethoven scholarship, but for pianists its issue is the publishing event of the decade.”
In the light of such high praise, eyebrows might be raised at the spectacle of me now reviewing an alternative edition. However, it’s only fair to admit that however definitive an edition is (and the Del Mar edition is as definitive as they come), there is still space for more than one edition of these masterpieces on our shelves.
Given the complexity of establishing an exact text of these core works, and the performance considerations they raise, I certainly welcome the option of having a couple of editions to consult, especially if they offer complementary strengths and insights.
Also last year, and with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth clearly in sight, Wiener Urtext released their own fully updated and revised urtext edition of the Sonatas in three volumes, UT 50427/8/9.
Without detracting from my enthusiasm for the Del Mar edition in any way at all, there are good reasons why some players might welcome the strengths offered by the Wiener Urtext editions, or even prefer them; this review will focus on explaining what I think those are…
Undertaking a complete recording of the 32 published Piano Sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) remains one of the monumental challenges for any concert pianist, and with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth next year it’s likely that the many accounts on disc will come under greater comparative scrutiny than ever.
Enter Igor Levit, who has previously impressed critics and audiences around the world both in recital and on disc. A Sony Classics artist, Levit is flying the flag for one of the world’s largest labels with his new 9CD set of the Sonata cycle, released this month.
These are interpretations which inevitably face comparison with the legendary recordings by such luminaries as Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff and Friedrich Gulda, beloved cycles by Stephen Kovacevich, Alfred Brendel and Claudio Arrau, and the more recent accounts by Paul Lewis, András Schiff, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and (revelatory on fortepiano) Ronald Brautigam.
With such high stakes, let’s find out how Levit’s cycle fares …