Listening without preconceptions, but with visions of him as titanic in concert, proved a mixed blessing in the Hammerklavier. I was listening for things that didn’t come. Granted this recording derives from a well recorded session for MusicMasters back in 1998, but there is something almost half-hearted about some of the playing that makes me wonder whether he was entirely comfortable in the studio. This element of short-breathed phrasing tends to sap the sonata of its power and stature and even in the slow movement there is a curious sense of a lack of engagement. This is odd because Feltsman is not at all a cold player, or an objectifying interpreter, but what his playing lacks – here – is a sense of cumulative development, and a sense of intimacy as well; things are kept at just too much of a remove, tonally and expressively. There’s plenty of clarity in the finale, and the gaunter sonorities evoked seem to suite Feltsman better but again, disappointingly, there is a lack of cumulative development. Things don’t sound remorseless enough, or compelling enough.
I’m afraid I found the same sets of weaknesses in the companion sonata, the A major, in which the knotty phrasing in the first movement is something of a stumbling block. Clearly his approach will have its admirers, more attuned to his kind of sensibility than I, but I do find his playing frustrating and awkward, and, in a word, inhibited.
Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international.com