P0773. WILHELM BACKHAUS: Pastoral Sonata #15 in D, Op.28; Sonata #18 in E-flat, Op.31, #3; Waldstein Sonata, #21 in C, Op. 53; Sonata #30 in E, Op.109 (all Beethoven). (Germany) 2-Audite 23.420, Live Performance, 18 April, 1969, Berlin. Specially priced. - 4022143234209
“More remarkable historic releases come in some two-CD sets from the label Audite, well-known for its superb remastering of original tapes from German broadcast companies (especially RIAS Berlin). On 18 April, 1969, the pianist Wilhelm Backhaus came to Berlin to play Beethoven at the Philharmonie. Backhaus was always admired as one of the finest interpreters of Beethoven’s music, and it is moving to hear the great old man in the Sonatas Nos. 15, 18, 21 and 30. A few months later Backhaus died, aged 85. His sense of the essential in this music, his awareness of its structure and spiritual depth, opens the ears of the listener. All the technical aspects of piano playing are subservient to the musical expression. These are really memorable recordings.”
-Norbert Hornig, CLASSICAL RECORDINGS QUARTERLY, Autumn, 2010
“Audite's historic archive releases enjoy an excellent reputation worldwide. The high quality of their content is due to their long-term cooperation with radio archives, permitting a continuous exploration of archive collections. The high sound quality of the releases is achieved by using only original tapes from these archives. Audite acquires licences from the broadcasting companies even for public domain archive recordings. In addition, there is the process of re-mastering using numerous new technological post-production possibilities to achieve optimal sound quality while, at all times, remaining faithful to the principles of historical documentation. Only those productions which fulfil all these criteria are labelled with Audite's seal of quality, ‘1st Master Release - Original Tapes’. Audite is, in every aspect, oriented towards high quality.”
“Even as a young man Wilhelm Backhaus was the epitome of a pianist who focused on performing a work as objectively as possible. With this aim, he proved a strong influence on the succeeding generation of pianists and constituted the opposite pole to Wilhelm Kempff’s playing. Backhaus’ domain was the classic-romantic repertoire from Bach to Brahms with Beethoven at the centre. During his long career on the concert platform, which lasted for over 70 years, Backhaus intensively explored the piano sonatas of Beethoven with remarkable technical reliability and a profound mastery of musical substance. This live recording of a concert – featuring four major sonatas, including the 'Waldstein' Sonata, Op. 53, and the Sonata in E major, Op. 109 – given in Berlin during the last year of Backhaus’ life (1969) - once more demonstrates the merits of Backhaus’ clear and, in the most positive sense of the word, classicist interpretational approach: like almost no other pianist, he knew how to illustrate the content and architecture of this music without sacrificing the detail – but also without losing himself within it.”
“Wilhelm Backhaus made a concert début in Leipzig at the age of eight, and studied at the Leipzig Conservatory with Reckendorf. In 1899 he left Leipzig to study with Eugène d'Albert in Frankfurt am Main. He made a major début tour in 1900 and quickly gained a fine reputation as a player and as a teacher. His American début was on 5 January, 1912, in New York, playing the Beethoven Piano ‘Emperor’ Concerto with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra. In 1930 he moved to Lugano and acquired Swiss citizenship. Backhaus established a teaching career there and continued to make concert tours throughout his long life. His last U.S. appearance was in New York in 1962, at age 78; reviews judged that his powers were undiminished. He died on 5 July, 1969, in Villach, Austria, where he had gone to make a concert appearance.
Especially during the later phase of his career he had a remarkably high reputation as a pianist whose devotion to the composer's intentions was total and unselfish. His performances were in the classic line of those that strove to present the music in one broadly viewed arc of concept and logic, embracing not just single movements but entire works. His recorded output ranges from Mozart through the main Classical and Romantic repertoire. It is not surprising that his work was particularly excellent when he encountered those composers who built large-scale, logically constructed classical works, such as Beethoven and Brahms; in reference to his recordings of such works, terms like ‘magisterial’, ‘exemplary’, and ‘direct’ have often been employed by reviewers. Late in his life he came to be regarded as a Beethoven specialist, and he recorded virtually the entire corpus of keyboard works of that master, as well as extensive groups of Brahms and Mozart, and works by Schumann, Grieg, Chopin, and Liszt, including concerti and solo works. He also made some chamber music recordings, notably of Brahms' cello sonatas with Pierre Fournier, and a notable account of the Schubert ‘Trout’ Quintet.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com