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CD: Russian CD Shop

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor ("Moonlight"), Op. 27/2 (1801) [14:44]
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor ("Tempest"), Op. 31/2 (1801-02) [18:11]
Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [16:32]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 (1821) [16:44]
 Heinrich Neuhaus (piano)
rec. Moscow 1946-50
Experience Classicsonline

Neuhaus's Tempest Sonata is a splendid example of the implacable strength of his approach. Recorded in 1946 by which time he was fifty-eight it's certainly not note-perfect by any means. But such matters as the dropped notes in the opening movement are of little account when measured against the sense of engagement with the music that Neuhaus stakes out. There is no sense of externalised music making in a performance such as this, simply an accumulated concentration on what Neuhaus locates as the music's essence - conveyed in a way that can be terse and maybe even clipped, but that rewards the listener with the gravity and depth of the understanding. You'll also find it on APR 5660.
The Moonlight reprises these qualities of rugged nobility of utterance. There's gravity in the opening movement's unfolding but no bogus sentiment. The accelerandi in the finale are visceral, voicings strong, dynamics powerful, the music making one of unostentatious dynamism. Op. 109 shows us the so-called 'philosopher' Neuhaus - I've always found the appellation a bit forced; he hardly needs such descriptive raiment. He etches the bass with adamantine control and whilst it's true that he can be technically fallible, not least in the hair raising Prestissimo, this is of far, far less importance than the sense of engulfment he summons. It's known that he referred to Beethoven as 'the father of impressionism' and the slow movement of this sonata in particular as a 'divine prayer and song'. He plays it with the wisdom of a stoic, not too slowly, but with absolute intellectual probity. There's occasional wow or distortion especially at 5:77 in this movement.
When Neuhaus wrote about Op.110 he did so principally in pictorial and narrative terms. The 'dreamy instability' of the sonata's opening alternates with the strongly hewn exploration of the Allegro molto central movement. He brings a strong linear control to bear finding culminatory, consolatory fell in the fugue. It's a reading of the utmost probity and moving control. The recording here, as elsewhere, is of the somewhat rough and ready type, typical of the period in Moscow.
There are interesting booklet notes in perfectly serviceable English. If you've not encountered Neuhaus in this repertoire then this concentrated focus is a good place to start.
Jonathan Woolf 

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