Steinway & Sons Launches A Beethoven Cycle

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

The Steinway & Sons label weighs in for Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year, launching a sonata cycle featuring pianist Konstantin Scherbakov. Each volume will be released via download and streaming platforms only. Once the cycle reaches completion, it will be released as a physical CD boxed set. Pending the latter, I draw your attention to the first installment.

Scherbakov distinguishes himself for incisive finger work, sophisticated timing, and astute attention to the composer’s volatile dynamics and accents. This helps him create forward impetus and a feeling of animation, even when tempos are somewhat slower than expected, such as in Sonata No. 1’s opening Allegro and Menuetto, or in No. 3’s Scherzo. What is more, Scherbakov achieves a high level of control and tonal variety while employing the sustain pedal discreetly. Listen to the way the First sonata Prestissimo’s relentless left-hand triplets take surging wing through finger skill and hand balance alone. Likewise, by not pressing No. 3’s Allegro assai, Scherbakov’s right-hand runs sparkle all the more, with impressive definition and point.

All three sonatas receive noteworthy readings, but the A major communicates the strongest individual profile on the performer’s part. The terse first-movement exposition motives, for example, constantly surprise and delight the ear, seemingly occupying distinct dynamic levels and timbres. Scherbakov follows a steady course throughout the Largo appassionato, letting the music’s poignant lyricism and classical reserve speak on its own behalf. The pianist feels the Gracioso finale in a flexible two beats to the bar, and happily avoids most pianists’ annoying habit of taking the main theme’s last three notes on a swan dive. Needless to say, I look forward to following Scherbakov’s Beethoven cycle as it progresses.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 2 No. 1: Kocsis (Philips), Op. 2 No. 2: Kempff (DG); Rubinstein (RCA), Op. 2 No. 3: Michelangeli (Orfeo)

  • Konstantin Scherbakov (piano)

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