Elisabeth Leonskaja

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 109, 110 & 111

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German audiophile label MDG departs from its usual focus on unusual repertory here for a recording of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas by Elisabeth Leonskaja, born in what is now Georgia and later a fixture of the Viennese music scene. The instrument is semi-historical, a 1901 Steinway D, and it's the star of the show at the sonically superb Ehemaliges Ackerhaus der Abtei Marienmünster (Former Farmhouse of the Marienmünster Abbey), a favorite haunt of MDG's engineers. The instrument has an especially rich lower register that emerges beautifully here, and Leonskaja makes excellent use of it in the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109; several accents in the left hand take on structural significance that is original in her reading. Leonskaja is a tough, powerful player, a sort of female Sviatoslav Richter, and her approach is well-suited to the instrument and sonic environment here. The opening movements have deep colors, and the scherzos snap with abrupt surprises. The transcendent variation finales of the Piano Sonata No. 30 and the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, it must be said, don't quite take wing, although Leonskaja is on top of their considerable technical challenges. Not an absolute top choice for these sonatas, but a prime example of a successful confluence of music, instrument, and engineering. Booklet notes are in German, English, and French.

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