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Alexandre Tharaud’s recordings range over a wide expanse of repertoire, from Rameau, Bach and Scarlatti, to Kagel and the singer-songwriter Barbara. Generally, enlightenment and enjoyment follow in equal measure but it was risky for his first Beethoven recording to go straight to the final three sonatas, one of the greatest challenges to any pianist. I do not think it has entirely come off.

No 30, that deceptively simple-sounding masterpiece, encapsulates the problem. The opening Vivace ma non troppo is light and airy, catching the feeling of improvisation that is one of the work’s hallmarks, but the ensuing Prestissimo feels like a technical exercise where the virtuosic challenge of the notes is still being assimilated, interpretation of the music pushed into the background. This gives his reading an unfinished quality, all the more apparent in the concluding Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung, which just does not take flight.

Matters are little different in No 31, a shame as this is the one that should have suited Tharaud’s playing style the best, but the result is slightly pedestrian. In No 32, Tharaud seems to be at the edge of his expressive resources – though sometimes that is a good thing, prompting a white- knuckle-ride of inspired playing.

Harmonia Mundi’s sound is beautifully clear and resonant, and with a 64-minute bonus DVD of Tharaud performing these same pieces (is it my imagination but do they flow slightly better?) in what looks like an abandoned house, there is much to commend this release. Nonetheless, it will not trouble the very best: Kovacevich (Warner), Bavouzet (Chandos) or Tharaud’s label-mate, Paul Lewis.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing