Wilhelm Backhaus

Wilhelm Backhaus Plays Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven

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You'd have to be a pretty hardcore fan of German piano music to be interested in this 2006 disc of half century old performances by a nearly forgotten German pianist. But if you are a truly hardcore fan of German piano music, then the prospect of hearing performances by the nearly forgotten but undeniably masterful Wilhelm Backhaus will cause your heart to skip a beat. Backhaus, who died in 1969, was at his peak in the '50s, but most of his many superb recordings for Decca are not now and never have been available on CD. And as any truly hardcore fan of German piano music will tell you, this is a crying shame because Backhaus was irrefutably one of the great German pianists. As his performances here show, Backhaus was an incredibly soulful, deeply spiritual, and profoundly musical pianist whose insights seemed to come straight from the source. His 1955 Schubert's Moments Musicaux and Schumann's Waldszenen are intimately lyrical and amazingly poetic, while his 1954 Beethoven Waldstein Sonata from the Salzburg Festival is powerful, passionate, and in the end incredibly ecstatic. Of course, the unwary have to be advised that while Backhaus was a great pianist, he was not always a great piano player. His technique was generally more than serviceable, but he was no virtuoso and it shows in the faster passages of the Waldstein's finale. As the tempo increases, the missed notes multiply and there are even some passages where Backhaus' left hand is off by as much as a third. Still, for truly hardcore fans, these are hardly major concerns -- Kempff and Fischer were known to drop notes by the bucketful and it never perturbed them or their fans -- and this disc absolutely deserves to be heard by anyone who treasures great German piano playing. Archipel's sound is very distant in the 1955 recordings and a bit less distant in the 1954 recordings.

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