David Allen Wehr

Beethoven's 32 Piano Sonatas

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Part of a complete series of Beethoven's sonatas on the Connoisseur Society label, this double-disc release includes a couple of the heavyweight sonatas, the Piano Sonata in C major, Op. 53 "Waldstein," and the Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata." American pianist Wehr is not a household name, but he is known among, well, connoisseurs. Superbly equipped technically, he plays in a style that draws on what might be called the old Viennese mainstream. There are echoes of Wilhelm Kempff in his playing, which is Romantic in spirit without foreclosing an intellectual approach. Inner lines are carefully articulated (one could say that Wehr has Schnabel's sense of the individuality of each sonata, but Schnabel was never so careful with the details), and if he has the chance to slow things down to bring out the luxuriance of Beethoven's textures, he takes it -- hear the finale of the "Waldstein," especially where the opening theme is filled out with accompaniment in sweeping octaves. Wehr's interpretation here is both unusual and persuasive. The earlier sonatas on other discs in Wehr's cycle have been on the restrained side, and the trend continues with the three sonatas of Op. 31 recorded here. But Wehr suggests a sharp stylistic break beginning with the "Appassionata," where the grim clarion calls beginning the final movement are given passionate emphasis. The Piano Sonata in E flat major, Op. 81a, "Les Adieux," and Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, are invested with strong expression; the artless little tune that forms the basis of the Op. 90 finale has rarely sounded as loaded with Schumann-like recollections and dreams as it does here. Pianists these days tend to feel they have to make a distinctive mark with Beethoven, and it's a real pleasure to hear recordings like these that, while not in any way derivative, fit into a long tradition. With fine sound originating in an ideally small concert hall in suburban New York City, this is an excellent disc for the Beethoven collector, or even the total newcomer.

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