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Eschenbach – The Early Recordings (6 CD box set, FLAC)

Eschenbach - The Early Recordings (6 CD box set, FLAC)
Eschenbach - The Early Recordings (6 CD box set, FLAC)

Audio CD
Number of Discs: 6
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Zoom
Size: 1.12 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Ludwig van Beethoven
[1]-[3] Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor Op.37
Christoph Eschenbach piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Hans Werner Henze

[4]-[6] Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat Op.73 “Emperor Concerto”
Christoph Eschenbach piano
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Seiji Ozawa

Ludwig van Beethoven
[1]-[4] Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat Op.106 “Grosse Sonate für das Hammerklavier”

Frédéric Chopin
[1]-[24] Préludes Op.28
[25] Prélude in C sharp minor Op.45
[26] Sostenuto, Prélude No.26 in A flat

Robert Schumann
[27]-[39] Kinderszenen Op.15

Franz Schubert
[1]-[4] Piano Sonata in A, D959

Franz Schubert
[1]-[4] Piano Sonata in B flat, D960

Hans Werner Henze
[1]-[6] Piano Concerto No.2 (1967)
Christoph Eschenbach piano
London Symphony Orchestra
Hans Werner Henze

A Mixed Bag from a Premier Pianist

The first question you might have looking at this box set would be why you might want to buy it, since it is not concentrated on any particular composer, being a smattering of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and Henze (!). So to be brief, I’ll just say you should buy it for the Beethoven, which is absolutely top-drawer. The Emperor is for my money one of the top 2-3 interpretations out there. It’s big and bold, and Ozawa’s conducting is every bit as assertive as Eschenbach’s playing. Often when I listen to Emperor recordings by the big name pianists, I’m disappointed by the often hesitant accompaniment from the orchestra. You won’t have to worry about that here. The 3rd is also very strong, nearly up there with my all time favorite for #3 Perahia, although I would say that Henze’s conducting might come across as a bit ponderous for some. Clocking in at just over 50 minutes, the Hammerklavier is one of the longer recordings available, and it’s an epic interpretation of the sonata that has to be the all-time winner of the epic sonata sweepstakes. Eschenbach’s take on the Hammerklavier here doesn’t differ significantly from his better-known and more widely available EMI recording, with the exception that, if anything, he attacks the first movement with even more vigor and gusto in this older recording. Here you have a vivid picture of a young pianist with technique and energy to burn, pushing the very limits of a piece to find its essence. It’s thrilling to listen to. Although I like the kind of tempi Pollini, Ashkenazy and Goode take with the adagio, I’m amazed and incredibly impressed with how Eschenbach sustains the drama over about 25 minutes. Eschenbach is forthright and muscular in his approach to Beethoven, but the slow movements of all three works in this set show he can delve very deeply into Beethoven’s emotional landscape and offer new insights.

I’m enjoying the disc that couples Chopin’s Preludes with Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood. They’re both masterpieces of romantic miniaturism and I’d never think of listening to the two one after the other; but now I can, have, and they make for revealing listening when they’re together and therefore invite comparison. The Schumann is superb and Eschenbach is more than equal to the technical demands and emotional range of these pieces. He seems as at home in Schumann as he is in Beethoven, and one is left wanting more. While the Chopin is fine and I have no problems with it, that aforementioned natural affinity that Eschenbach has with Beethoven and Schumann seems lacking and you’d do well to stick with Pollini or Arrau or whomever your favorite happens to be.

The Schubert is a disappointment. I couldn’t discern the mistakes another reviewer claims are there, but Eschenbach’s performance of both sonatas is rather routine and emotionally uninflected, and these are not routine and emotionally uninflected compositions. I can think of about half a dozen pianists right off the bat who offer so much more, so the Schubert really is missable.

As for the Henze, I have to say that listening to it is part of my future, and probably always will be!

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