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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1826)
Complete Piano Duets
Piano Sonata for four hands, in D, op.6 (1797) [6:19]
Eight Variations in C on a Theme by Count Waldstein, WoO.67 (1794) [8:23]
Six Variations on 'Ich Denke Dein' WoO.74 (1805) [4:58]
Three Marches, for four hands, op.45 (1804) [13:41]
Grosse Fuge in B flat, for piano four hands, op.134 (1827) [15:00]
*Piano Sonata for four hands, in D, op.6 (1797) [6:01]
*Eight Variations on a Theme by Count Waldstein, WoO.67 (1794) [8:32]
*Six Variations on 'Ich Denke Dein' WoO.74 (1805) [4:48]
*Three Marches, for four hands, op.45 (1804) [13:37]
*Grosse Fuge in B flat, for piano four hands, op.134 (1827) [13:57]
Amy and Sara Hamann (pianoforte, *fortepiano)
rec. Sundin Hall, Hamline University, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, 2-4 June 2010; *Landmark Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 18-22 October 2010. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP 619-20 [48:21 + 46:55]

This novel release on HNH's new deluxe Grand Piano label offers not one, but two recordings of Beethoven's complete music for piano duet. Young American sisters Amy and Sara Hamann perform these five works first on a modern Yamaha piano, and then, on CD2, da capo on a period reproduction fortepiano. Moreover, whilst the Yamaha recording takes place in a concert hall, the Hamanns sensitively relocate to a chamber-proportioned space to capture better the more intimate voice of the fortepiano.
This being Beethoven, these works have all been recorded before - but not that many times. Even op.6 is relatively uncommon, usually omitted from complete cycles of Beethoven's sonatas. Collections of all five works are rarer still. One recent competitor appeared ironically on HNH's Naxos label - American pianists Cullan Bryant and Dmitry Rachmanov performing on period instruments (8.572519-20). Despite the interesting inclusion of duet works by Beethoven's teachers Albrechtsberger, Haydn and Neefe, their double-disc came out with a similar timing - because they only gave the one run-through of Beethoven. Though by comparison an also-ran in terms of price, the present release offers that unusual, if not unique, side-by-side chronicle, and it is hard to see how Beethoven fans in particular could go wrong.
With regard to Bryant and Rachmanov, the Hamanns are decidedly punchier, pushing things along in every instance to produce readings that are always faster, whether on modern or period instruments. Most strikingly perhaps, their Grosse Fuge on fortepiano is a full three minutes quicker than Bryant and Rachmanov's. In fact, Beethoven's own transcription of that monumental piece will likely be the biggest pull for music-lovers, even if the piano version does not quite have the magic or power of the original for string quartet. Nonetheless, even Beethoven's lesser works - most of these are earlyish pieces - are worth the asking price. He himself took them seriously, as can be seen not only from the fact that two were accorded opus numbers, but also by the annoyance he demonstrated towards his publishers over their opportunistic treatment of the Waldstein Variations and especially the Grosse Fuge.
From beginning to end, though, there is much listening pleasure to be had - twice over - courtesy both of Beethoven and the Hamanns, making their debut for HNH and only their second commercial recording. They are elegant and perceptive, self-confident and telepathic. Audio quality is also very good. The fortepiano has an attractive sound that should lenify even those who are no admirers of period instruments. Failing that, hearing the instruments one after another like this will serve to strengthen individual prejudices one way or the other! Booklet notes by Naxos's own veteran Keith Anderson are well written and informative.
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