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Scott Noriega
Fanfare, November 2012

…most impressive. Backhaus proves that even at the age of 75 he still had the chops to not only play this music well—he was always an elegant and refined player—but to bring a lifetime of experience to its intensely inward-looking moments. Rarely have I heard a better live performance of the “Hammerklavier,” a work that still gets the better of some of the greatest pianists, and rarely have I ever heard a studio performance that is as utterly thrilling and moving. This is one of those releases that you simply don’t want to miss. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2012

Not for the first time, one encounters 75 year old Wilhelm Backhaus on tremendous form in recital, here at the Beethovenhalle in Bonn in September 1959. His concert begins with Schubert’s Impromptu No.3 in B flat major from the D.935 set. There is such facility and tonal lustre here, and a dappled, songful lightness propelled by the deftest of left hand rhythms. He is at pains to explore, but not to overplay, the harmonic directions of the music, and his reading is meanwhile full of lyrical affirmation and delightful tonal resources. When required he employs dynamism tinged with élan. The concert could scarcely have begun in a more richly affectionate way.

In the great acres of the Hammerklavier, one finds Backhaus as committed and sagacious as ever. The very start is deceptive. Its seeming lumpy quality is soon dispelled by sonic drive and technically powerful engagement. Backhaus’s famed sense of logical divination is at a premium here, as he lays bare the motivic shards of the music as it advances. His Scherzo is dramatic, voiced with considerable intensity and clarity. The slow movement of the Hammerklavier is considered, nuanced, frequently of great depth and tonal beauty, and wholly at the service of a performance of spiritual and expressive nobility.

This is a distinguished release, extremely well recorded, and well documented. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Scott Noriega
Fanfare, July 2012

This recording remains a remarkable document of the ease of execution and the elegance of musical interpretation [Wilhelm Backhaus] shared with certain members of that generation of pianists.

The pianist makes the most of the diverse musical sections in the sonata, from the fluid and graceful scalar passages in the first movement, which sound like shimmering silky waves made of delicate musical fabric in his hands, to the big chordal passages, which are powerful walls of sound that surround and engulf the listener. Backhaus has no qualms about enhancing the effect of certain of these latter passages by adding extra sonority in the bass parts…The slow movement, one of the most difficult and sublime in Beethoven’s oeuvre, is emotionally taxing to even the most seasoned performers. Backhaus intelligently chooses a flowing tempo: never so slow as to drag, but never too fast as to trivialize the music. The finale is taken at a brisk pace. There is more than just a sense of danger; there is in his interpretations the conviction that regardless of the obstacles, he will triumph in the end. There is as much fire in this “Hammerklavier” as the best of them.

The other works on the recital are well played as well, the Schubert being particularly inspired. The Beethoven F-Major Sonata is no minor work, and Backhaus gives it all the respect and love that he does the rest of the program. The opening movement is playful in that Haydnesque vein, the fugato finale lighthearted yet filled with Beethovenian determination and drive. The quirky middle movement is perhaps my favorite in the sonata…Backhaus revels in the mysterious opening phrases, lightening the path through the middle section, bringing the piece to a wistful end. It is three and a half minutes of pure bliss.

This is a remarkable recital, one that grows on you the more you listen to it—one captured in remarkable sound given its vintage. This is no lightweight rendering of the piece, either; this is one to remember…Backhaus is a welcome addition to my collection. If you are a fan of the “Hammerklavier,” then this recording should be welcome to yours as well. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

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