[CD Review]

Preferably in more Beethoven and in the mature works of Brahms.
BRAHMS Piano Sonata No. 1. BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 29, “Hammerklavier”
Adam Golka (pn) FIRST HAND 33 (74:59)

By Richard A. Kaplan | October 2014

The award-winning young American pianist Adam Golka was born in 1987; that would make him 23 or 24 years old when this program was recorded in 2011. At that time, Golka had been living with each of these works for almost 10 years. Still, one can’t help but wonder: if he plays the “Hammerklavier” at 24, what will he do at 48? There’s nothing callow, however, about this music-making. Golka meets Beethoven’s challenges head-on, taking a brisk tempo in the opening Allegro and following Beethoven’s score markings scrupulously. Golka writes in the booklet, candidly, “As for the Hammerklavier, I think it was its impossibility that initially enticed me to undertake it, and a truer admiration came only later.” This “truer admiration” is apparent in the Adagio sostenuto, which Golka sustains for a full 19 minutes. The fugue is taken at an uncompromising tempo. Golka plays with a fine sense of line and a good legato, and the rigorous counterpoint is rendered clearly. It is no insult to say that Golka falls short of the magisterial version of this work by the English pianist Solomon—currently available on both EMI and Testament—but this is a most impressive reading. Although the opening of Brahms’s First Sonata—his opus 1—is an unmistakable homage to Beethoven and, specifically, to the “Hammerklavier,” the piece overall seems to me to owe more to Schumann. Written when the composer was only 19, it’s an uneven work; as in the original version of the B-Major Trio, op. 8, composed a year or so later, impressive passages are juxtaposed with those in which the musical progress seems to grind to a halt. Golka gives a fully committed performance, however, making the most of the score’s youthful exuberance. I note with dismay that Tamás Vásáry’s DG version, supplanted in the CD issue of the Brahms Complete Edition by the more willful reading of Anatol Ugorski, is no longer available. This is a distinguished debut CD. I look forward to hearing Golka’s current playing, preferably in more Beethoven and in the mature works of Brahms. (I note that he recently played the great B-flat Major Concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony to enthusiastic reviews.)

Recommended. Richard A. Kaplan



MP3, full CD resolution & hi-resolution downloads available from iTunes, Amazon, Presto Classical etc. Streamed through Naxos Music Library & Spotify