Compositions: Complete piano sonatas
Performers: Dirk Herten p
Catalogue Number: White 9789491980749
To tackle the Beethoven Piano Sonatas in toto is an achievement, no question. Many great artists have done it, just as many mountaineers have climbed Everest. Mountaineers don’t have to be ranked, though. They just have to get there. Dirk Herten is (presumably) a Belgian pianist – the label is based in Brussels – but this beautifully produced box set contains nothing about him, or about the music. I would describe his playing as polished and pristine, driven by the dictum “moderation in all things”.
He has chosen to present the sonatas in random order, so (for instance) the first disc begins with No 32, Op. 111, followed by the A Major Sonata Op. 2 No 2, and Op. 14, No 1. Unfortunately, this serves to underline his one-size-fits-all approach. While he is clearly more suited to the early sonatas, he conveys no sense that Beethoven underwent a spiritual or even technical journey between Nos 2 and 32. The notes are all there, cleanly presented, but the point of this music is rarely in evidence. The opening of the Pathétique lacks portent and the slow movement is clunky. His cautious, meticulous Waldstein Sonata unfolds without a skerrick of excitement. The Moonlight’s hasty first movement sounds like a study by Clementi. Indeed, Herten’s neatness would be ideal in Clementi, Hummel, Czerny… I need hardly list the pianists who have plumbed the depths of these sonatas, from Schnabel to Lewis and more. You should look elsewhere.