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Wilhelm Backhaus: Decca Beethoven Sonatas Box set, Import


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Audio CD, Box set, Import, January 9, 2006
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$75.25
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Editorial Reviews

Backhaus was one of the great exponents of the Classical and Romantic repertory and his performances had an integrity that eschewed any unnecessary display and flamboyance; his concern was to give the most direct interpretation of what the composer wishes and the structure and architecture of his chosen repertory was paramount. Backhaus recorded extensively for Decca throughout the 1950s and 1960s and recorded works by Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Schumann. His complete cycle of Beethoven Sonatas occupied him throughout the 1950s and 1960s and is regarded by many as his greatest achievement, and the cycle is justly recognised as one of the great recorded cycles. It has not been available on CD for some years now and is reissued in response to repeated requests to make it available again.

1. Piano Sonata Op.2 No.1-3
2. Piano Sonata Op.10 No.1
3. Piano Sonata Op.10 No.2 & 3
4. Piano Sonata Op.13 'Pathetique'
5. Piano Sonata Op.14 No.1 & 2
6. Piano Sonata Op.22
7. Piano Sonata Op.26
8. Piano Sonata Op.27 No.1 & 2 'Moonlight'
9. Piano Sonata Op.28 'Pastorale'
10. Piano Sonata Op.31 No.1
11. Piano Sonata Op.31 No.2 'Tempest'
12. Piano Sonata Op.31 No.3
13. Piano Sonata Op.49 No.1 & 2
14. Piano Sonata Op.53 'Waldstein'
15. Piano Sonata Op.54
16. Piano Sonata Op.57 'Appassionata'
17. Piano Sonata Op.78
18. Piano Sonata Op.79
19. Piano Sonata Op.81a 'Les Adieux'
20. Piano Sonata Op.90
See all 23 tracks on this disc

Product Details

  • Performer: Wilhelm Backhaus
  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Audio CD (January 9, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 8
  • Format: Box set, Import
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Decca Import
  • ASIN: B000E0LB7C
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,436 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By George on June 28, 2006
Format: Audio CD
From the first sonata to the last, Backhaus plays these works with all the seriousness and intensity they demand. His tone, not usually mentioned, is incredible and the recorded sound is nearly ideal. His playing may lack charm and lightheartedness, but after all, this is Beethoven, not Mozart. He has a classical approach to the early works, though it should be mentioned that he observes very few of the repeats. The middle works are even better, he presents such favorites as the Pathetique and Waldstein works in such a compelling way that its like hearing them for the first time. In the late works he is a bit less at home, but in my opinion much can still be enjoyed in his performances of them. Backhaus recorded this cycle twice and played them throughout his life. In fact, some of the performances were recorded just a few months before he died, though you would never know it. Another interesting fact is that he was actually EMI's second pick to be the first pianist to record the 32 sonatas, Schnabel of course was the first. This shows that thirty years before he recorded this cycle, EMI recognized his greatness. Imagine then, what 30 years of performing and recording (this is his second time recording the 32 sonatas) these works did for him. They are incredible recordings that show a master who understands these works like so very few do.

This is a reissue of his stereo set, which has far better sound than his very similar mono cycle, currently unavailable in the USA. The liner notes are illuminating as well. This set is worth twice the asking price and will surely not be around forever, so do yourself a favor and get this cycle. You won't be disappointed.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Johannes Climacus on September 27, 2007
Format: Audio CD
If you are reading this review, chances are you are a classical record collector who owns multiple versions of all the Beethoven sonatas, perhaps multiple complete cycles by the likes of Schnabel, Kempff, Ashkenazy, et. al. You are also probably wondering whether you should invest in another Beethoven cycle by a pianist whose name and legacy may be less familiar to you. The answer is: absolutely! Not even Schnabel probed more deeply behind the notes than Wilhelm Backhaus, and few have possessed the technical endurance at an advanced age to conquer the rugged peaks of the late sonatas (all but the *Hammerklavier* were taken down when Backhaus was in his seventies). Backhaus may be gruff sometimes; the earlier sonatas could do with more refinement, elegance and humor. He also has a tendency to urge the music along at relatively swift tempos, which will not please those who prefer a leisurely ramble through Beethoven. But whatever one's misgivings about a particular point of interpretation, the integrity, inwardness, and ruggedness of Backhaus's approach will win you over time and again. Here is a pianist whose absolute mastery of technique and idiom affords him the space to follow his inner promptings without the slightest playing to the gallery. The listener is invited to follow him along his way--or not; he aims mostly to challenge, and never merely to entertain. The recordings sound newly minted in this affordable "bargain box." If you do not know Backhaus's interpretations, you are strongly encouraged to purchase this set.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jurgen Lawrenz on February 5, 2011
Format: Audio CD
The hype around Beethoven didn't start yesterday. It is a product of the middle to late 19th century, when musician began to have an inkling of just how revolutionary (artistically speaking) Beethoven had been: how he changed the whole conception entertained by western civilisation of the nature of music. Remember that Hegel, an exact contemporary, still doubted that music was an autonomous art form!
The consequence was, that his Protean power. so persuasive and yet so uncomfortable for bourgeoise sensibilities, was subdivided. We know all about his three periods, and so on. Interpreters more or less followed suit: after all, they made a living out of him. When Schnabel, in Harold Schoenberg's headline, "invented" Beethoven, he created a caricature. He did not invent Beethoven, he drove the craze for originality to a quite unwholesome peak. I wonder how people could take this seriously, but they still do. The point I'm making here is that you are listening to Schnabel the pianist using Beethoven's music a a tightrope for his own dancing. No-one followed in him in this attitude; and just as well!
But he succeeded in obscuring the fact that Beethoven's true style was rather better represented, in his own era, by Wilhelm Backhaus. Many people always knew this; certainly the Decca people did. In consequence we have, in these recordings, a cycle of performances that are sane, stylistically secure, eschewing any exaggeration for mere effect and remaining unruffled by the cries of those who can't do without varnish and/or pretence. Stephen Kovacevich once said, "Wilhelm Backhaus was the only pianist who really understood Beethoven." I can go along with that.
It is true that Backhaus is inclined to relatively fast tempi. Hi approach to the early sonatas will not suit every taste.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By jsa on October 12, 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Were Wilhelm Backhaus (1884-1969) to come on the scene today, he would never be accepted seriously as a Beethoven player. His occasional added bass octaves, failure to play most repeats and idiosyncratic approach to the markings (he seemed to have little patience for the slow movements in Beethoven) would doom him with the critics and maybe the public too. But, thank God he came from another era, because there are some really marvelous things in this set.

Backhaus was seventy-four when he returned to the studio in 1958 to begin recording this cycle of Beethoven sonatas, a multi-year project in stereo sound which was nearly complete before his death in 1969 (only the Hammerklavier remained to be done - the mono recording included here comes from 1952). Despite the pianist's age, the playing is consistently vigorous and there's no sign of technical decline - in fact, it's hard to believe Backhaus was in his eighties when nearly half of these sonatas were recorded. His Beethoven was direct, masculine and extroverted almost to an extreme; if one phrase could describe his playing it would be unrelenting forward momentum.

It was his often unorthodox approach that didn't go over well with some critics even forty years ago, not to mention today. Harris Goldsmith, in his overview of the sonatas in the Beethoven bicentennial year for "High Fidelity" magazine wrote of Backhaus that "there is a burly weight and robust elementalism that infuses his playing, but it is the authoritative weight of German Romanticism rather than the more specific linearity of the true Beethoven style. There is something disappointingly cavalier about the late pianist's brisk treatment of slow movements and a failure to reach boiling emotional temperature in the more expressive moments.
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Wilhelm Backhaus: Decca Beethoven Sonatas
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