All the pieces recorded here come from the 1920s, the period of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies, and are rarities. Among the finest are the Five Sketches, which come from the very end of the decade and more among Sibelius’s last published works. They may be slight but they are highly individual and hive great finesse. The Village Church from Op. 103 has overtones of the Andante festivo for strings, and The Oarsman seems to ruminate on ideas in the Seventh Symphony. Sibelius’s piano-writing may have evoked little enthusiasm during his lifetime and it is true that, by the exalted standards he set elsewhere, it is limited in resource and scale. But pieces like In Mournful Mood and Landscape from Op. 114 are curiously haunting. So is the rest of the Op. 114 set, and its neglect has been our loss.
Like Gilels, Brendel treats the Op. 35 Variations as far more than a poor relation of the Eroica Symphony finale. His approach has less of the urgent, seemingly improvisatory thrust which makes the Gilels DG performance (on LP only) so compelling, but the sharpness with which he characterizes each variation is a delight, each time bringing a moment of revelation, and often relating this essentially middle-period work to much later inspirations. The six Bagatelles of Op. 126 equally find Brendel giving these fragments a weight, concentration and seriousness to reflect what else Beethoven was writing at the time. There is a gruffness of expression with charm eliminated. The third Bagatelle is the more moving for its simple gravity, and only in the final one of the group does Brendel allow himself to relax in persuasive warmth. Fur Elise makes a simple, haunting prelude to the group and the six Ecossaises a jolly postude with Brendel evoking the bluff jollity of Austrian dance music.
This second volume of miscellaneous chamber works contains all of the music that is not a formal quartet, quintet, or sextet. In includes the piano trios, the wonderful Terzetto for two violins and viola, works for solo instrument and piano, pieces for piano four-hands, and all of those little, undefinable works, some of which (such as the Bagatelles for two violins, cello, and harmonium) are magnificent.
This live Appassionata, from a Moscow recital of 1959, is one of the most thrilling piano performances ever recorded. Sviatoslav Richter fills every moment of the first movement with intense drama, creates the illusion of total repose in the central variations, and then takes off in the finale with an exhibition of musical virtuosity and ever-increasing tension that becomes almost unbearably intense (and unbelievably fast and accurate). The studio Pathétique is quite fine, and the Fantasy (sung in Russian!) well performed by all but still rather quaint in its effect. But don't miss that Appassionata!
Born in Australia Bruce Hungerford (1922-1977) studied with the legendary Ignaz Friedman in Sydney. His move to the USA brought him in contact with Myra Hess, who gave him valuable coaching, and later with Carl Friedberg. His prodigious qualities caught the attention of the Solomon brothers of the American Vanguard Classics label who contracted him for a complete Beethoven cycle recording. Sadly Hungerford died in a car accident halfway the project. Piano Classics is happy to issue his Beethoven Legacy for the first time in one CD box set. Hungerford’s Beethoven is powerful, full of dramatic contrasts and effects, but also of great tenderness and wit, the full spectrum of Beethoven’s genius and humanity. Apart from his superb pianism and musicianship, Hungerford is also remembered as a professional palaeontologist and Egyptologist.
Though close to each other in date, the two works on this disc, which are the last in which Beethoven wrote for piano and orchestra together, are in other respects quite dissimilar. The Emperor is a standard piano concerto or so it seems to us, because it was uniquely influential in defining the form for the next 100 years. To its first audiences it must have seemed highly individual, and even idiosyncratic. The Choral Fantasy, on the other hand, appears to us an unorthodox, even unique conception, much freer in form, as befits the title fantasy which Beethoven chose for it. Yet both are entirely characteristic of the composer in their deployment of a structure that served the purposes of the content of the work itself to its greatest advantage. Concluding the Complete Orchestral Works of Beethoven, this vol. 12 finds Thomas Dausgaard, Boris Berezovsky and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra on top form.