Music Reviews

Review of Peter Takács ‘Complete Beethoven Sonatas’

The year 2011 saw the release by the Cambria label of Peter Takács’ complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle. The project had been set down between 2001 and 2007. The original release of eleven SACDs in Surround Sound was issued in a very lavish box, however, these 2000 sets had unfortunately sold out by 2016. A couple of years ago, it was decided to reissue the set in a much-slimmed down format with the discs, now in translucent sleeves, housed in a more colourful, smaller, sturdy box. The booklet has also been reduced in size, and now only provides the pianist’s essay The Mind of Beethoven. This time 500 sets have been produced in what amounts to a limited edition and, we are told, once they’re gone, that’s it. [Available in high resolution DSD rates only at NativeDSD]

One of the attractions of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas is that they are so extraordinarily diverse; they demand consistent insight, imaginative flair and great musicianship to bring them off successfully. Peter Takács has these qualities and rises to the challenge admirably. His cycle compares favourably with my personal favorites, which include those by Richard Goode, Claude Frank and Friedrich Gulda (1950’s Orfeo version).

Ludwig nav Beethoven (1820) by Joseph Karl Stieler

Takács performs the first movement of the Sonata in C major Op 2 No. 3 with technical crispness. The Adagio, which follows, is wonderfully atmospheric and lyrically sculpted. A spirited Scherzo precedes a fourth movement which is exuberant and exhilarating. The Piano Sonata Op. 10 No. 3 receives an energized opening movement of big-scaled playing. Yet it’s the sublime slow movement where this pianist excels, allowing the melancholy, tragedy and anguish of Beethoven’s expression of personal grief to emerge. The Menuetto offers some soothing balm, before a capricious Rondo, based on a teasing three-note question, calls time.

The ubiquitous trio of named sonatas fare very well indeed. The Pathétique’s opening chords sound ominous and have sufficient gravitas to register a dramatic impact. The Adagio cantabile second movement is lovingly phrased, whilst the finale is extrovert and brisk, with a touch of capriciousness. The opening movement of the Moonlight is poised and tranquil with thoughtful phrasing. The third movement is well articulated and lives up to the Presto agitato marking. In the opener of the Appassionata, Takács allows the drama to slowly emerge from the darkness. The central movement is poetically etched, whilst the spirited finale exudes energy in abundance.

From the Op. 31 set I particularly enjoyed No. 3 in E flat, whose lively finale have led some to nickname it The Hunt; Takács conveys its galloping motion to perfection. The remaining three movements are quite relaxed and delightfully sunny, with the Menuetto having a refined elegance and charm.

The Waldstein is conventionally paced, and I admire greatly Takács’ voice layering. There’s much drama brought out in the first movement. By contrast, the Adagio molto is a haven of serenity and leads smoothly into the free flowing Rondo. The Hammerklavier is a work of epic proportions, and Takács’ technical prowess is to be admired. In the opening movement one can feel the superhuman struggle involved. Dynamic variance is applied with utmost attention. The Adagio sostenuto held my attention throughout, it was exquisitely contoured. The final fugue was delivered with authority, energy and vigour.

The last three sonatas provide a spiritual climax to this epic journey, and Takács’ accounts are magisterial in every respect, combining wonder and fantasy. There’s no doubting that these are difficult works, but I felt these performances have a splendid sense of logic and musical shape; they are revelatory interpretations. The Andante variations of Op. 109 flow into each other smoothly, and there’s a tangible feeling of forward momentum and progression. The Adagio of Op. 110 is dark and brooding, and conveys an inner stillness. Op. 111 is wonderfully paced. The opening movement’s counterpoint is cleanly delineated. The Arietta is sublime, with the cumulative effects of each subsequent variation becoming more rhythmically complex, providing tension and drama as the movement progresses. At the end, there’s tranquility and a deep sense of resignation.

The final disc of the set constitutes a sort of addendum. Apart from the Andante favori, all of the other sonatas (WoO – works without opus numbers) I’d never previously encountered. They are all relatively early works each of a shorter span than the 32. Nevertheless, they provide an interesting window into the mind of the composer. In the Op. 6 Sonata for four hands, Takács is partnered by Janice Weber in the secondo role.

The concert hall at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee provided the venue for the six year long project and there’s a remarkable consistency of sound throughout the set. The piano is ideally placed in the sound picture and the acoustic offers a warm, intimate and sympathetic ambience. The pianist performs on a fine sounding Bösendorfer Imperial Grand, which has been expertly voiced and has a warm, radiant tone. As for Takács’ interpretations, they are top-drawer in every respect.

Written by Stephen Greenbank for MusicWeb International

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