BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas (complete) – Peter Takacs, piano – Cambria (11 discs)

by | Oct 20, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas (complete); Youthful sonatas and fragments – Peter Takacs, piano – Cambria multichannel SACD 1175-1185 (11 discs), 11:28:39 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
If you are a true audiophile—and chances are you think you might be if you visit these pages—then this disc will be self-recommending, a magnificent recording in multichannel Super Audio done on a wonderfully-mannered Bosendorfer and recorded at the Concert Hall of the Music and Mass Communication building at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. It is flat-out the most vividly captured set of the Beethoven sonatas on the market today, and might remain that way for some time. These are late bloomers, recorded 2001-2004, and Super Audio has changed somewhat since then, but you aren’t missing anything here. Peter Takacs is a noted performer and professor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and this realization represents the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of his.
Period folks will shrink from this, and that is too bad; of course the mere mention of a Bosendorfer is probably enough to put them off their food for a week, and that is a shame, for Takacs’s approach to these works, according to his own requirements set down in the notes, is one of the most rational and musical apologias I have heard. Following the dictates of one of his teachers, Leon Fleisher, Takacs says that one must go beyond mere historical and “timely” aspects of the music to get to the “wisdom of the material”, the “unspoken essence that lies beyond the notes.” So are their revelations here? Actually, no, and that is not unexpected; after so many sets over so many years it is almost impossible to expect an artist to shed new light on these warhorses. What we look for now are performances that are heartfelt, clean, passionate, and in this case, with state-of-the-art sound. This recording has all of those. I continue to favor Schnabel, the DGG stereo Kempff, Paul Lewis and Andras Schiff as a good summation of what these sonatas are all about. Having said that, I can see myself returning to this set very often because the sound is marvelous, and those other artists don’t offer that much more in interpretative felicity than here. Okay—maybe Kempff does, as his elegant playing and supremely insightful manner in this music will for me always be a class apart. But if you love this music, and how can you not, you need more than one—make that more than two or three—complete sets.
And the best is yet to come. If I had to make a one-up comparison with another set I think I would say that Takacs sounds a lot to me like Garrick Ohlsson, and that is flattery indeed, as I think so highly of him and love most all of his recordings. The energy and spark that Ohlsson finds in Beethoven Takacs finds also, yet there is no lack of poetry either. Whether it’s the “Waldstein” or the “Appassionata”, each reading receives a performance of temperamental balance and excellent judgment. Unlike so many artists who feel up to tackling all of these works, Takacs is extraordinarily adept at giving consistently fine readings across the broad spectrum of these pieces. Like I said, you won’t find interpretative unearthing jewels here, but you will find solid pianism, a point of view, and moving performances.
The box set is a marvel. All the disc are contains in one booklet-style catalog that is a little awkward to get at, and there is also a 144-glossy-page hardbound booklet that contains detailed notes on each sonata as well as interpretation notes and a brief history of the Beethoven 32 on record. In the back of the booklet is an amazingly detailed and thorough Beethoven timeline fold-out that covers his biography, music, literature, science, and history; again a little awkward to use, but quite informative.  On Amazon I found this whole set for around 80 bucks, quite a steal by anyone’s measurements. No matter how many sets I own, and there are quite a few, I don’t think I could resist this one.
—Steven Ritter

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