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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano sonatas Volume 5: Sonatas 29-32
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat major, Op.106 ‘Hammerklavier’ [50:33]
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, Op.109 [21:59]
Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat major, Op.110 [21:09]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111 [29:29]
Daniel Barenboim (piano)
rec. Palais Rasumowsky, Vienna 1983/84
Directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
EUROARTS 2066518 [125:00]

This is the fifth and final volume of Barenboim’s survey of the complete piano sonatas of Beethoven on EuroArts. Here we are offered sonatas 29-32. In April I favourably reviewed volumes 2-4. Volume 1 has, however, eluded me, which is disappointing for a completist.
 
Many, including myself, would consider the sonatas featured here to be the pinnacle of all piano music. Barenboim has the advantage that he has played these works many times, and has recorded two wonderful complete cycles with EMI in the 1960s and Deutsche Grammophon in the 1980s. As I said in my review of the other volumes, Beethoven has played a central role in both his career as a pianist and that of a conductor. Even at this stage in his career, when these performances were filmed, he brings to the works great insights. His grasp of the structure and architecture of this music has been something that has always attracted me to his playing.
 
The ‘Hammerklavier’ is the longest work here; indeed it is the giant amongst the sonatas. Composed 1817-18 and dedicated to his patron the Archduke Rudolf, the sonata reached a peak in terms of size and timescale. Any performance of Op.106 will sort out the men from the boys. Barenboim takes up the challenge admirably with an account that is technically secure and notable for its visceral excitement. The slow movement is eloquent and Barenboim’s traversal of this, the longest movement in the composer’s entire sonata oeuvre, is spellbinding. Aptly, Paul Bekker the German music critic described this movement as  "the apotheosis of pain, of that deep sorrow for which there is no remedy, and which finds expression not in passionate outpourings, but in the immeasurable stillness of utter woe".
 
In the last three piano sonatas, Beethoven explores new territory with works that are intensely personal and more inward-looking that what has gone before. Barenboim is here truly transcendental and he approaches each with great spontaneity. They have a freshness and improvisatory feeling about them and, all the time, he applies his fierce intellect to realise his vision. The highlight is the sublime Arietta of Op.111, which he builds up from the simple opening theme, cumulatively throughout each variation. It’s a fitting conclusion to a great and noble journey.
 
What we see and hear was filmed at the Palais Rasumowsky, Vienna, 1983-84. For anyone wanting a visual survey of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle these, together with the other volumes, offer compelling results. At the moment, these 5 DVD volumes are available only separately (NTSC), or alternatively packaged as a three disc complete set on Blu-ray (2066424).
 
Barenboim brings freshness and sensitivity. His expressive powers are wondrous.
 
Stephen Greenbank 

Masterwork Index: Sonatas 29-32

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