January 7, 2012 12:49 am

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 5, 11, 12 and 26

Jonathan Biss takes a middle-of-the-road view – no overly prim classicism and no romantic waywardness

Beethoven

 

Piano Sonatas 5, 11, 12 and 26

Jonathan Biss

(Onyx)

3 stars

It used to be that the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas were a musical summit, to be recorded only by the most experienced interpreters. The world has moved on: recordings are no longer seen as a final statement but as a moment in time.

Jonathan Biss, a younger-generation American with a rising reputation, makes a sensible start to his complete cycle: the four works here are representative of Beethoven’s journey but do not include the popular sonatas that invite comparisons with other versions. Biss takes a middle-of-the-road view – no overly prim classicism, no romantic waywardness. He handles the slow music of Sonatas 5 and 26 thoughtfully, and the latter’s lively finale is suitably inspiring.

Elsewhere there is a want of personality: the outer movements of Sonata No 11, for example, sound prosaic.

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