Rudolf Buchbinder Records Beethoven's 32 Sonatas Live

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The Viennese pianist Rudolf Buchbinder is steeped in Beethoven. He has recorded all the composer's piano music – the concertos, the sonatas, the variations. He has performed the complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas more than 40 times around the world. Even his very first concert – at age 10 in Vienna – featured Beethoven's First Concerto.

The obsession continues. Buchbinder's latest release, called “The Sonata Legacy,” features live concert recordings of the complete piano sonata cycle, using first edition scores and original manuscripts of the composer.

Buchbinder readily admits that he wasn’t altogether happy with his last Beethoven sonata go-around, recorded in 1982 for Telarc. It featured studio recordings, which sounded too edited and canned, he writes in the liner notes. “The small mistakes that inevitably occur during a live concert are a price I am happy to pay,” he said, adding that he doesn’t mind the occasional audience cough. He even claims to leave in the mistakes here, although they appear few and far between. 

The pianist is also a stickler for using musical scores untouched by publishers. He owns a library of more than two dozen different printed editions of Beethoven’s sonatas, which differ in significant ways. For these recordings he uses the Franz Liszt Edition, chosen because Liszt did not prescribe any fingerings of his own. Buchbinder also consults original manuscripts to get a better understanding of Beethoven's intentions.

This cycle was recorded at the Dresden Semperoper during the 2010-11 season, and one hears a degree of spontaneity doesn’t always come through in studio takes. It's there in his fiery rendition of the Presto Agitato from the “Moonlight” Sonata, his pulsating take on the “Hammerklavier” and the brisk reading of the “Waldstein,” to name just three examples.

“The Sonata Legacy” recently won an Echo Klassik award, the German music industry equivalent of the Grammys for classical music. Buchbinder is slated to perform Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Mostly Mozart Festival on Aug. 14.

Rudolf Buchbinder
The Sonata Legacy
Sony Classical
Available at Arkivmusic.com