||Wilhelm Backhaus, piano
Recorded between 1951 and 1953
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, April 2012
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Wilhelm Backhaus
Total duration: 55:41
©2012 Pristine Audio.
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The 2012 Backhaus
1. Sonatas 1-4
2. Sonatas 5-9
3. Sonatas 10-13
4. Sonatas 14-17
5. Sonatas 18-22
6. Sonatas 23-26
7. Sonatas 27-29
8. Sonatas 30-32
9. Concerto 1, Diabelli
10. Concertos 2 & 3
11. Concertos 4 & 5
Sixth volume in Backhaus's magnificent first Beethoven Sonata cycle
Long only available on rare imports, and in new 32-bit XR remasters - this is unmissable
- BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" [notes / score]
Recorded April 1952
Issued as Decca LXT 2715
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 24 in F sharp major, Op. 78 "A Thérèse" [notes / score]
Recorded April 1952
Issued as Decca LXT 2931
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major, Op. 79 [notes / score]
Recorded March 1951
Issued as Decca LXT 2603
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a "Les Adieux" [notes / score]
Recorded November 1953
Issued as Decca LXT 2902
Wilhelm Backhaus piano
Recording producer: Victor Olof
Recorded at Victoria Hall, Geneva
FLAC Downloads includes a PDF score of each sonata
"While Backhaus's understanding of Beethoven is not, at this time of day, in any dispute, there is room to question whether these particular performances succeed in conveying it to the listener. They are dominated by a savage attack, and a refusal to play below an mp-mf degree of volume; a refusal that may be the result of many years' experience of recording under less satisfactory technical conditions than to-day's—which are here not on their very best behaviour, but are nevertheless good, and of course greatly superior to those that may be in Backhaus's mind .. The Appassionata stands up to the strain fairly well ; and is, indeed, particularly in the last movement, an impressive display of technical powers of the most advanced kind."
M.M. The Gramophone, September 1952 (Reviewing LXT2715, excerpt concerning Sonata No. 23) [link]
"The classical, precise, authoritative Backhaus is presented here with uncommonly lifelike quality. He has his minor erraticisms, but they are no more than a part of the person who is presenting a great master for our full attention. Backhaus's own intense conviction of the composer's mastery fully overcomes any doubts one might have about the music. In truth, not one of these three sonatas is of great magnitude—that in G major (op. 79), Beethoven himself entitled " sonate facile ou sonatine."... I like the brittle, guitarry effect Backhaus creates for the opening movement of Op. 79: it has a kind of peasant air about it. The andante is taken well under walking pace, and I could bear the vivace finale more headlong. From this disc I had slight trouble with blast, which remained even if one turned the dynamics down. Backhaus's percussive style need not lead to this fault."
H.F. The Gramophone, October 1951 (Reviewing LXT2603, excerpt concerning Sonata No. 25) [link]
Notes on the recordings:
I have pointed out in previous technical notes that it has increasingly become my opinion that this series of Beethoven sonata recordings is one neglected - and, in its day, often disparaged - not primarily as a result of the playing by Backhaus of these works, but the by the raw deal he was served up by Decca's inadequate recordings.
In this volume pitch is, for the most part, not the issue seen previously, the exception being the first movement of the Appassionata, which dips alarmingly to begin with before proceeding to waver and jump about throughout the movement, most probably the result of editing together various takes as much as poor general tape speed stability. This has, for the first time, been corrected.
I would have to take issue with The Gramophone reviewer's suggestion that Backhaus refuses to play below mp-mf throughout the work - but can well imagine that impression being given by poor reproduction of his playing. Much of this is now happily alleviated here, and these interpretations can be more clearly judged within the excellent sonata cycle they so clearly combine to produce.
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Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Wilhelm Backhaus ('Bachaus' on some record labels) (March 26, 1884 – July 5, 1969) was a German pianist and pedagogue.
Born in Leipzig, Backhaus studied at the conservatoire there with Alois Reckendorf until 1899, later taking private piano lessons with Eugen d'Albert in Frankfurt. As a boy of 9 or 10 he was taken to hear both of the Brahms piano concertos performed by d'Albert — and conducted by Brahms himself. He made his first concert tour at the age of sixteen. In 1905 he won the Anton Rubinstein Competition with Béla Bartók taking second place. He toured widely throughout his life - in 1921 he gave seventeen concerts in Buenos Aires in less than three weeks. Backhaus made his U.S. debut on January 5, 1912, as soloist in Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. In 1930 he moved to Lugano and became a citizen of Switzerland. He died in Villach in Austria where he was to play in a concert. His last recital a few days earlier in Ossiach was recorded.
Backhaus was particularly well known for his interpretations of Beethoven and romantic music such as that by Brahms. He was also much admired as a chamber musician. One of the reasons for his unique sound is his choice of a Bösendorfer piano for his performances and recordings, as opposed to the more common use of Steinway pianos.
According to some critics, Backhaus was one of the first modern artists of the keyboard (see Alfred Cortot for his antithesis) and played with a clean, spare, and objective style. In spite of this analytic approach, his performances are full of feeling. One of the first pianists to leave recordings, he had a long career on the concert stage and in the studio and left us a great legacy. He recorded virtually the complete works of Beethoven and a large quantity of Mozart and Brahms, and he was also the first to record the Chopin etudes, in 1928; this is still widely regarded as one of the best recordings (Pearl 9902 and others). Backhaus plays them smoothly and softly, overcoming their technical challenges without apparent effort. A live recording from 1953 includes seven of the Études, Op. 25 and shows the changes that occurred in his playing style over the years (Aura 119). His technical command is the same, but he is more relaxed and confident and more willing to let the music speak for itself.
His January 27, 1936 recording of Brahms's Waltzes, Op. 39, runs just over thirteen minutes. His studio recordings of the complete Beethoven sonatas, made in the 1960s, display exceptional technique for a man in his seventies (Decca 433882), as do the two Brahms concertos from about the same time (Decca 433895). His live Beethoven recordings are in some ways even better, freer and more vivid (Orfeo 300921).
His chamber music recordings include Brahms's cello sonatas, with Pierre Fournier, and Franz Schubert's Trout Quintet with the International Quartet and Claude Hobday.
The Times praised Backhaus in its 1969 obituary for having upheld the classical German music tradition of the Leipzig Conservatory. His phenomenal transposing powers spawned many anecdotes: finding the piano a semitone too low at a rehearsal of Grieg's A minor Concerto, he simply played in B flat minor — and then in A minor at the concert, after the instrument had been correctly tuned.
Backhaus was quick to recognize the importance of the gramophone. His July 15, 1909 somewhat abridged recording of the Grieg Concerto was not only the first recording of that work, but the first time any concerto had ever been recorded. Later, on January 5, 1928, he made the first complete set of recordings of the Chopin études. At his death, Backhaus was just completing his second complete Beethoven sonata cycle. All that was missing was the Hammerklavier Sonata — when, according to the Beethoven specialist Stephen Kovacevich, Wilhelm Backhaus was the only pianist to have really understood it. (Excerpts from the book/guide to the “Great Pianists of the 20th Century”, published and © in 1998 by the Philips Music Group).
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Backhaus
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