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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 30, Op. 109 [21:53]
Piano Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 [20:36]
Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111 [23:30]
Beth Levin (piano)
rec. 20 April 2012, Faust Harrison Pianos, New York City
NAVONA RECORDS NV5908 [65:59]

Beth Levin's Beethoven sonatas suffer from unfortunate drawbacks. These include very poor sound quality which is weirdly and almost artificially reverberant at climaxes. The piano is so unflatteringly portrayed that I thought it was a period instrument. The occasional technical slips may be because the disc was recorded in one day and interpretive decisions I'm not always fond of. For examples of the latter, turn to the start of No. 30 (Op. 109), which on first listen I thought soft and graceful - but then decided was prettified. Then again there are the variations of that same sonata, where at about 9:00 there's a sudden lurch forward in tempo that can't be explained. After 12:00 there are some wince-inducing finger-slips.
 
Although the transition between Sonatas Nos. 30 and 31 is handled with a beautiful touch, vindicating the “A Single Breath” title of the disc, I have qualms about the way Levin seems to put on the brakes whenever momentum threatens to build. The final fugue is the exception, a grand conclusion, which would probably sound good in concert but not in a reverberant environment which is a bit like if the piano keys were dropping into a swimming pool.
 
The final sonata's first movement is again plagued with errors, without the kind of distinction or insight that makes some technically shaky artists worth hearing. The exposition repeat is omitted. The finale is good, in fact the next-best-played movement on the disc (behind the finale of 31), although the highest trills nearly pierced my eardrums because of the faulty recording.
 
I don't know why these performances were released on CD, and especially not with such unpleasant sound. With so many better recordings of the sonatas clamouring for your attention, this is one of those albums that need not have been made. Instead spend your money on Penelope Crawford's recording of the same three sonatas, which is also fairly recent and which I would choose over the likes of Richter, Goode, Barenboim, or Pollini.  


Brian Reinhart
 


Masterwork Index: Beethoven sonatas 30-32