“Complete Piano Sonatas” H.J. Lim, Piano (EMI, eight discs)
“Diabelli Variations” Andreas Staier, fortepiano (Harmonia Mundi)
“Piano Sonata No. 32 Op. 111 plus Ligeti etudes” Jeremy Denk, piano (Nonesuch)
Beethoven maintains his shock-and-awe factor in these new piano sonata recordings. Ever the intellectual renegade, Jeremy Denk surrounds Beethoven’s “Op. 111” with impulsive, explosive etudes by Gyorgy Ligeti, the message (according to Denk’s excellent booklet notes) being that “we’re still catching up with Beethoven.” Agreed. But after hearing the deep-tissue insights of Denk’s gripping “Op. 111” performance, one has a unique opportunity to catch up with Ligeti’s often-dizzying works, thanks to the pianist’s astounding technique and probing album notes.
On the “Diabelli” disc, Andreas Staier makes a great case for playing Beethoven’s late masterpiece on a Graf fortepiano that gives this gargantuan piece a spacious separation between the different keyboard registers plus a delicacy that’s needed amid the composer’s leonine musings. Bonus inclusions are variations on “Diabelli’s” theme by Schubert, Liszt and others.
Has there ever been a more audacious recording debut than that of South Korean-born, French-trained pianist H. J. Lim? Her calling card is an eight-disc set of complete Beethoven piano sonatas, now available on iTunes for $9.99. Breaking with the usual chronological approach, she groups the sonatas under headings such as “Heroic Ideals” in performances that are invariably alert and accomplished, though a bit slick.
The most difficult sonatas fare the best. In the infamous Piano Sonata No. 29 “Hammerklavier,” she projects a strong viewpoint and such clarity that you’re astounded anew at what strange, forward-looking music it is. That alone is worth $9.99.
— David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer