Koroliov’s Hammerklavier

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

The strong contrapuntal acumen distinguishing Evgeni Koroliov’s Bach characterizes his late Beethoven, especially in the Op. 101 sonata. He contours the first movement’s part writing with minute gradations of touch that almost give the impression of different instruments at work. Sparing doses of tempo modification help intensify the second-movement march’s gnarly leaps and trills, while Koroliov effects an assiduous transition between the Adagio and Allegro movements.

If the Hammerklavier Allegro falls short of Beethoven’s admittedly over-optimistic metronome marking, Koroliov nevertheless achieves a welcome fusion of headlong momentum and breathing room that makes me forgive his use of A-natural instead of A-sharp in the ascending chain of broken fifths and sixths just before the recapitulation (Paul Lewis, Wilhelm Kempff, and Alfred Brendel take this option).

I prefer a terser Scherzo with fewer rhetorical modifications: why, for example, bring in a gratuitous ritard when the B-flat major theme briefly appears in B minor? If you play this in tempo, you’ll create more of a sense of surprise. While the Adagio sostenuto is gorgeous and perpetually singing, I don’t care for Koroliov’s somewhat arbitrary speed-ups within slow-moving phrases that cause the basic pulse to dissipate. Still, he comes into his own as the music grows more florid and emotionally heated. Koroliov makes the most of the finale introduction’s dramatic pauses and mood changes. Although the pianist stretches out the syncopated broken-chord build-up to a fault at the start, he maintains a suave surface in the fugue while delineating it with the utmost clarity and point.

In sum, you may not agree with every detail, yet the sheer authority and finish of Koroliov’s pianism deserves high praise. The superb sonic ambience reflects Tacet’s highest piano recording standards, on par with Koroliov’s aforementioned Bach reference releases.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 101: Goode (Nonesuch); Op. 106: Arrau (Philips)

    Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major Op. 101; Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”)

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