Beethoven’s 244th birthday anniversary is this week, on Tuesday December 16, and our month-long celebration of that great composer continues with two of his most famous piano sonatas on our CD Pick of the Week.
New York-based Italian-born pianist Alessio Bax has become familiar to Washington audiences through his performances in the area, and his appearances on Classical WETA’s Front Row Washington and Classical Conversations (there’s a new one there now in which Deborah Lamberton discusses this CD with the pianist). His new Beethoven release includes, along with two of Bax’s own arrangements of music for The Ruins of Athens, the “Moonlight” and “Hammerklavier” sonatas, two of Beethoven’s best known. The “Moonlight” is perhaps the more iconic of the two; it’s especially dear to Bax, his having played it at his very first piano recital when he was eight years old.
The “Hammerklavier,” No. 29 in B-flat, is perhaps a deeper work, at least for Bax. “What can I say about the “Hammerklavier” that has not been said before? It is, with no fear of exaggeration, one of the great achievements of humankind. It is Everest for a pianist. I have lived with this work for nearly twenty years now and it has singlehandedly deepened my knowledge of Beethoven, piano technique and music,” says Bax in his program notes. “In any other profession it would be frustrating to seek something as elusive as an understanding of the “Hammerklavier,” but for an artist, it is a great gift. I am forever grateful to be in such close contact with Beethoven’s genius – to touch and feel it day after day, year after year at the keyboard – and I continue to be humbled, moved, and inspired by the daring of his music.”