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SACD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonatas

  • Sonata for Piano #8 in C minor "Pathétique", Op. 13
  • Sonata for Piano #14 in C Sharp minor "Moonlight", Op. 27 #2
  • Sonata for Piano #17 in D minor "Tempest", Op. 31 #2
  • Sonata for Piano #23 in F minor "Appassionata", Op. 57
Artur Pizarro, Blüthner piano
Linn CKD209 78:49 Hybrid Multichannel SACD
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Alternatives to the nearly ubiquitous Steinways stimulate alert listening and offer important perspectives for familiar, sometimes over-familiar music (q.v. Schiff). Who can resist exploring another Beethoven series? Certainly not Artur Pizarro, who has 'devoured' every recording of the Beethoven series he could lay his hands upon (an uncommon admission amongst performing musicians) preferring those from the 1920s to 1950s. His chosen warm-toned Blüthner, 'more nimble and transparent' than a normal 20th grand, offers 'something different, ridiculously expressive, and old-fashioned' as he tells Gramophone. No holding Pizarro's horses; that nimbleness sometimes encourages extreme speeds (e.g. in the finale of the Tempest which is Allegro-Presto rather than an unhurried, Schubertian Allegretto) and the Appassionata is breathtaking.

These are big-boned, thoughtful-yet-romantic, hugely-expressive and risk-taking studio performances of Beethoven, that sweep you along. How much risk, Londoners and BBC Radio 3 listeners can find from Pizarro's live Beethoven Sonata series of recitals at St. John's Smith Square which, on this sampling of these most popular (because 'named') sonatas is an exciting prospect.

Winner of the 1990 Leeds Piano Competition, Pizarro is not one of the 'top names' on the London circuit, and can be a strangely variable player, as in a recital of modern American music at the Wigmore Hall, but he is fondly remembered for his participation in the Hyperion/Blackheath pianoworks 99 festival, where he played a wide variety of music and gave master classes.

Artur Pizarro has previously given cycles of these lynchpins of the repertoire in Kansas and Portugal. Plenty of adrenaline flows throughout this programme, but everything remains clear and under the control of Pizarro's acute ear, intelligence and heart. Perhaps Linn will let him follow up this debut CD for them with the Hammerklavier and Les Adieux and on to a complete Beethoven cycle on CD if they sell well? The recording of these four favourites, over three days in October 2002, is superbly engineered to demonstration class, and the disc generously filled – though you can only discover the total time by putting it in your CD player!

Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf