Beethoven Piano Sonatas Op. 106 'Hammerklavier' and Op. 101

Pianist and conductor Vladimir Feltsman is one of the most versatile and constantly interesting musicians of our time. His vast repertoire encompasses music from the Baroque to 20th-century composers. A regular guest soloist with leading symphony orchestras in the United States and abroad, he appears in the most prestigious concert series and music festivals all over the world. "...quite simply an amazing pianist!" - The New York Times


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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,

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