P1018. WILHELM BACKHAUS, Vol.VII: Beethoven Recital #4. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL 33-160, recorded 1950-54, Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
gcit seems for such an important release - possibly the first complete Beethoven sonata cycle of what you might call the ehi-fi' age - Backhaus' only truly complete [Beethoven] cycle is one of them. The recordings were all made in Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland. They began in July 1950 (Nos. 12, 21, 30), with the first six recordings being issued both on 78s and LPs, before dropping the 78rpm releases for the third batch of recordings, made in April and May 1952. And what a marathon that proved to be - Backhaus set down 11 of the sonatas during those sessions. We know for sure that the majority, quite possibly all, were produced by Victor Olof, with either Arthur Haddy or Gil Went engineering, where this was noted. Went was at the controls for the final sessions, the most grueling of the lot, in November 1953, when fourteen of the thirty-two were recorded, yielding some five LPs which were released during the course of 1954. Perhaps by this stage Decca had got wind of Wilhelm Kempff's DG series and wanted to get to the end first....So what do we make of the earlier sonata recordings. Well I'm going to reserve comment on performances because (a) I've not heard them all, and (b) there are far better experts than myself who will no doubt pass judgment in due course. Contemporary reviewers' reactions in many way mirror those for the Schnabel series twenty years earlier - a mixture of rapturous approval and some quite pointed criticism. Whether the years since their recording have changed opinions generally or specifically remains to be seen. Backhaus certainly had heritage and was already a seasoned eveteran' performer (to quote from a Gramophone reviewer) by the time he began the first cycle, at the age of 64."
- Andrew Rose, 3 Feb., 2012