Performer: Claude Frank
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 10
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Music & Arts Program
Size: 2.29 GB
Sonata No 1 in F minor, Op. 2 No.1
Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31 No. 1
Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”
Sonata No. 9 in E, Op. 14 No. 1
Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No.2 “Tempest”
Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109
Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10 No.1
Sonata No. 15 in D, Op. 28 “Pastorale”
Sonata No. 26 in E-flat, Op. 81A “Les Adieux”
Sonata No. 3 in C, Op. 2 No.3
Sonata No. 22 in F, Op. 54
Sonata No. 6 in F, Op. 10 No. 2
Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110
Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 “Pathйtique”
Sonata No. 25 in G, Op. 79
Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp, Op. 78
Sonata No. 18 in E-flat, Op. 31 No.3
Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1
Sonata No. 20 in G, Op. 49 No. 2
Sonata No. 29 in B-flat, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”
Sonata No. 7 in D, Op. 10 No. 3
Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90
Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53 “Waldstein”
Sonata No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 7
Sonata No. 12 in A-flat, Op. 26 “Funeral March”
Sonata No 28 in A, Op. 101
Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 2 No. 2
Sonata No. 11 in B-flat, Op. 22
Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2
Sonata No. 10 in G, Op. 14 No.2
Sonata No. 13 in E-flat, Op. 27 No.1
(Sonata quasi una fantasia)
If you can find these for a good price, snap them up!
I first heard Claude Frank in 1972 when he played Schubert’s last Sonata, D960 in B flat at the Aspen Festival in an afternoon concert. These were free events and I sat in the front row watching the man sing, stomp on the pedal for effect and generally go into a spiritual trance unlike others with similar tendencies. I’ve never forgotten the performance. When I returned from Aspen I quickly bought my first full set of Beethoven Sonatas on RCA’s budget Victrola label. I believe that Frank probably produced these recordings himself, RCA had other pianists at this time, but the big names were fading – Cliburn was falling away from his young triumphs, Horowitz was not yet back, and Rubinstein was almost finished. Having a complete Beethoven Cycle should have been a top priority for RCA, but they never advertised it and I assume it sold rather poorly against Kempff’s DGG versions. By the way, the Victrola discs were not yet so thin they were like wafers and the sound was solid if not particularly winning. More on that later.
Frank plays every sonata of Beethoven with a real point of view – he is NOT sight reading. A lot of complete versions of the sonatas of any composer are not performed with this sense of dedication depending on the pianist. Sadly, as an example of this Alicia De Larrocha was ill served when BMG coaxed her into recording all the Mozart sonatas for the 200th anniverary of the composer’s death. She was paid very well, but her manager, the late Herbert Breslin, was the driving force behind this mess and he is totally to blame for putting her on the spot. Many of those early sonatas she’d never played at all and the poor producer had dozens of takes to choose from with none of them very convincing. He did a good job, but Ms. De Larrocha was left out to dry by the critics who never realized what a dud of an idea it had been to start with.
Conversely, Claude Frank KNEW all the Beethoven sonatas inside out. I’ve had the good fortune to come across the two producer’s session/edit scores as I worked at RCA for many years. One can see there are long takes, few mistakes and the only problem is the venue, RCA studio A with its cement floor that made the sound far less ingratiating than Frank produced in a good concert hall. The sound is somewhat thin but certainly good enough when one considers these were budget releases. However, the producers were first Norman Scott who recorded most of Szell’s LPs for CBS and then Max Wilcox, best known for his Rubinstein connection. I believe Wilcox used the same setup he did with Rubinstein (no credits are given for engineering) which meant that three mics were placed at the front, middle and rear of the piano as it faced outward with the lid full up. I also suspect that the new Neumann U87 microphones were used then. They might have been alright for LPs in limited ways, but they never really managed to have the multi-colors of the earlier U67 tube mics that had made Rubinstein sound so marvelous until his tapes were remastered for CD with the middle track left out! Neither producer caught Frank as he sounded. His sound is more beautiful than Serkin’s. That is easy to hear from his CBS outings of the late sonatas. The sound is horrid. Of course comparing Frank to his first mentor, Schnabel, does little good. They are two different breeds of interpreters and Schnabel’s 1930 recordings, I find, may not represent him at his best.
So pick a few of these works and examine them closely with a score in hand. Op 31 #3 has all the humor one can hope for, though others have found more puckishness in their efforts (Rubinstein’s last recording of this sonata is a real winner). Op. 106, the “Hammerklavier” is a real test. Frank’s tempi are excellent, he seems to find the perfect one for the final fugue considering the sound he is making. It is slightly bass shy on my system and this was not typical of Frank. The slow movement is not quite as profound as I like, but it is still quite acceptable, very much for the same sonic reasons. The other late sonatas all demonstrate what I heard in Aspen a few years later: great empathy with the composer. Beethoven is contemplating the end throughout these pieces as is Schubert in D960. Too bad there aren’t any recordings available of Frank playing late Schubert. Surely there must be some pirate versions floating around in piano limbo.
The early sonatas are played with simplicity, never getting overly ‘artsy’. Op 7 in E flat is a great example. It is among my favorite of the early sonatas and Frank brings out all the high points of this very difficult work. It sounds so very easy and is so very HARD to make work.
There is mention on Wikipedia that Frank is writing an autobiography. I’d love to read it if it is ever finished. As he is in his late 80’s we can only hope.
If you can’t afford lots of different versions of these works, this is a very, very good place to start. They’re very much in the German vein of the mid 20th century – from the ’30s to the ’70s. Never does he bang, never is his playing anything but true to Beethoven. I find the youngsters of today could stand to listen to Frank, Arrau, Kempff, and the many sonatas that the older Gilels recorded just before his death. No one plays Beethoven with the proper tone any longer. Though Garrick Ohlsson is certainly the exception. If only his old Liszt recording on EMI, were to reappear!
Don’t miss this set if you’re lucky enough to find it and get one for a friend too!