The 32: part 11

No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57

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The sine qua non of Beethovenian fury played by the sine qua non of 20th century pianism, Sviatoslav Richter.

There actually isn’t a great deal I can say about this piece, usually known, understandably, as the Appassionata. The first time I heard it, 27 years ago in a Kempff recording, I was stunned, particularly by the wild ending and the perfect balance between the three movements. Really, quite astonishing when you’re just realising that classical music contains more sheer violence than anything pop/rock/punk could conjure up.

Richter actually recorded it lots of times and the several exhaustive discographies provide guidance. Having just played it I can safely recommend a version put out by Melodiya, recorded somewhere behind the iron curtain, Richter being well liked by the Soviet regime, whatever his private views might have been. Lenin certainly loved the Appassionata. One of the finest appraisals of the enigma that was Richter is by fellow Russian, despite the name, Heinrich Neuhaus.

As with several previous posts on the 32, Andras Schiff, who can be a surprisingly bland pianist at times, provides a superb online commentary, with excerpts.

With a piece of this stature I wouldn’t want to limit my choice. Here are three others:

1. Glenn Gould’s demented version played with incredible control at about 2/3 of the normal speed. He only did it to be annoying.

2. Maurizio Pollini’s steely live version, played with all the precision that you would expect – with a studio version to compare it with on the same release.

3. Lang Lang’s live Vienna effort, which despite a few Langisms is a living breathing epic, with a particularly thumping finale.

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