There are even fewer things whose meaning continues to grow deeper with examination. T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, Mark Rothko’s mature paintings and late Beethoven generally come to mind. Here is a recording of the last three sonatas, Opp. 109, 110 and 111, that is the most serious attempt to reveal the secrets of these sublime works since Richard Goode’s 1987 versions for Nonesuch 30 years ago.
Curiously, the other classic recording it brings to mind is Glenn Gould’s made another 30 years before that in 1956. And of course everyone still measures every subsequent Beethoven cycle against the original Artur Schnabel 1930s recordings made 30 years before that. Perhaps it can only happen once a generation that someone takes us to new heights with their insights into this material. To paraphrase August Kleinzahler, this music is like “light passing through muslin… if it were fabric, it would come apart in your hands”. These late sonatas remain a mountain top whose crest keeps giving way to a further summit, hovering perpetually on the horizon, to which we head towards without ever arriving.
Only after 20 years of playing the late Beethoven Quartets did Rostislav Dubinsky of the Borodin Quartet finally feel he was beginning to understand the music, and Andras Schiff wisely has waited almost his entire career to tackle the late sonatas. That long period of contemplation has now produced something remarkable. A real addition to the classical recorded canon.