There are projects on which the artistic director of a record label straightaway asks himself a few questions. For example, when it comes to recording Beethoven’s three ‘greatest hit’ sonatas, recorded a multitude of times by the leading pianists. However, a forte-pianist of the calibre of Alexei Lubimov already constitutes one good reason to implement the project, as does the choice of the facsimile of an Erard piano (1802, copy made by Christopher Clarke) of which the original was within Beethoven’s reach.
Following his highly acclaimed Beethoven ‘Moonlight’, ‘Pathétique’ and ‘Waldstein’ Sonatas release, Hyperion’s Gramophone-award-winning artist Steven Osborne turns his talents to Beethoven’s complete Bagatelles. Though the composer himself referred to these thirty short piano works, which he penned throughout his life, as ‘trifles’, these are nonetheless trifles from the mind of a genius. In this polished album, Osborne lends his remarkable artistry to everything from the Six Bagatelles of Op 126, which at times occupy the same rarefied spiritual world as the late quartets and were the very last works Beethoven ever wrote for the piano, to the composer’s most famous stand-alone piano piece, the mysterious little A minor Bagatelle known to all the world as ‘Für Elise’.
Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly – very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and – horror vacui – the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year.