Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Friedrich Gulda plays Beethoven’s Complete Sonatas

   When choosing the interpretation of the great composition cycles the great caution is highly advisable. Such cycles are sometimes piece of work spanning whole composer’s life. In many cases an artist owes the fame to his past achievements or to accurate performance of some part of the cycle. In such case it's easy to overlook the differences between the works and even fall into the stereotypical reading. Cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas is an example of such challenge. Of course, every great pianist, gaining freedom in determining the sonata form rendition and artistic self-consciousness, attempts to deal with this task. One of those who made it with great success is Friedrich Gulda. Personally I think he made it with best known artistic quality.
   Friedrich Gulda was one of most reliable and creative piano masters of 20th century. Born in 1930, in age of seven he started to study in Vienna conservatory and as 12 year old he entered Music Academy. In 1946 he won the Geneva International Competition, and before he reached his twenty, he played worldwide. His basic repertoire span includes late baroque, classicism, romanticism and modernity, although the best results he achieved in classical piano forms, concertos and sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. Furthermore he was highly unorthodox artist, opened for different genres and styles. He played jazz, recording with Chick Corea, composing such music as Variations on The Doors ‘Light My Fire’ and organizing rave parties. He was also playing baritone sax and giving public performances in unconventional clothes.

Friedrich Gulda – Beethoven's Complete Sonatas (1967)

   Friedrich Gulda was an artist of strong background in tradition of Western music and personality whose creative ideas pushed him to explore alternative traditions as well as new ideas. Some officials were unable to understand his esthetical and philosophical views. When in 1988 council of Salzburg Festival express some doubts about inviting jazz pianist Joe Zawinul, Gulda in protest cancelled all appointed performances. This attitude gave him nickname “terrorist pianist”. But he was just the artist who was not submissive to authorities. In his recordings this point of view has been clearly expressed. And there is no better composer for emphasizing performer’s defiance than Ludwig van Beethoven. In his large-scale, multi-movement forms depths of ideas and intensity of feeling reached the limits of musical meaning.
   It is open question, if one pianist can perform whole set of Beethoven’s sonatas. Differences between early and late of 32 sonatas, the set comprising forty years (1782-1822) of composer’s development are profound. Beethoven’s personality change, historical and intellectual breakthroughs increased the stylistic distance between first and last works. No wonder for pianists Beethoven’s Sonatas are Himalayas of artistic challenge. Every artist dreams about performing complete set, but only some achieve complete success. One of them is Friedrich Gulda who recorded this 11 LP set for famous 1967 edition by Amadeo – Viennese label focused mainly on jazz (active 1956-1974). This legendary series is one of best renditions ever. Comparing to earlier recordings by Schnabel and Kempff, Gulda is more open, more polyphonic. He left more space for listener’s individual experience. His brilliant technique gives clear picture of both musical structures and emotional depths. Five star recording, maybe the best ever complete of Beethoven's sonatas and excellent candidate for personal favorite.

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