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Released Today (July 2): Pierre-Laurent Aimard Plays Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata and “Eroica Variations”

Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s second title as an exclusive Pentatone artist is released today (July 2). Having been recognized with a Gramophone Award for his recording of Beethoven’s complete piano concertos, the Grammy-winning French pianist devotes his new solo album to the composer, pairing Beethoven’s “Eroica Variations” with his monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata, a pinnacle of the piano literature and one of the most challenging works for the instrument. Aimard’s first Pentatone release, capturing his celebrated account of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, was honored with the prestigious German Music Critics’ Award.

Beethoven’s “Eroica Variations” share their nickname with the composer’s Third Symphony, from whose final movement they take their main theme. Written 15 years later, his “Hammerklavier” Sonata is arguably “the longest, the most profound, and the most difficult piece of music ever composed for the piano” (Musical Times). Reflecting on the iconic work and the unique challenges it poses, Aimard writes:

“How to act in the face of the incomprehensible, the immeasurable? Closing your eyes without letting yourself be too distressed – remaining prostrate in a type of comfort only humans can experience? Or open them fully, at the risk of getting lost, of slipping into a stupor? The ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata surpasses all understanding. Facing it is one of the most frightening tests of a performer’s life. But it is as irresistible as it is insurmountable. To dare to embody it can only be an attempt to wrest the unfathomable from sound matter.”

The sonata is one that figured prominently in the pianist’s original programming for the 2019-20 season, when, to mark the landmark Beethoven anniversary, he was scheduled to give numerous recitals juxtaposing the composer’s works with those by comparably trailblazing modern masters. Although forced to cancel many of these live events because of the pandemic, Aimard gave a number of streamed performances, one of which prompted the New York Times’s Zachary Woolfe to observe:

“Mr. Aimard’s overarching agenda, connecting Beethoven’s music, in his 250th birthday year, to strands of 20th-century modernism, came through with clarity, attesting to the strength of his vision and the savvy of his juxtapositions. … When he finished, this superb pianist bowed to the empty studio and walked offscreen, his footfalls echoing as his tones had. I didn’t hear him under ideal conditions, but so little is ideal these days. I heard him, is what matters, and he was very, very good.”

Click here to pre-order Beethoven: “Hammerklavier” Sonata and “Eroica Variations” and here to download high-resolution photos.

Beethoven: “Hammerklavier” Sonata and “Eroica Variations”

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat, Op. 106, “Hammerklavier”

Beethoven: 15 Variations and a Fugue in E-flat, Op. 35, “Eroica Variations”

Recorded at the Stefaniensaal in Graz, Austria in July 2020

Release date: July 2, 2021

Label: Pentatone

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© 21C Media Group, July 2021

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