Stewart Goodyear tackles the Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas

Hans von Bülow famously called the Piano Sonatas of Beethoven The New Testament. Few pianists have conquered this Mount Everest of piano music. Fewer yet have recorded all 32 of them. Others have even attempted to play all 32 over the course of a few days – even a few hours, turning the whole affair into an endurance test for both player and public.

Like the finest of wines, these works must be enjoyed slowly – ideally over several listening sessions. The extraordinarily gifted Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, equal to the task of taking on all of these works has just released a ten-CD collection of three sonatas per disc, except for a couple into which he and his producer manage to fit as many as five onto a single CD.

Having previously reviewed his work and heard him in person, I can vouch for Goodyear’s total devotion to the task before him anywhere at any time. Here he sails into Beethoven’s 1795 Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 and 3 all from the early opus 2 with the freshness of a curious young man discovering a new music world.

More like Mozart than Mozart in their inventiveness, more Haydn-like than Haydn in their elegance, yet utterly Beethovenian in their capricious changes of mood, dynamics and tempi these are seemingly simple sonatas that nonetheless demand of their interpreter assuredness and clarity, which Goodyear abundantly provides.

The tempo of the opening Allegro con brio of the C Major Sonata number 3, for example is taken at such a speed than at its onset one wonders if it will be much too fast to allow for a clean execution of the cascading scales at its halfway point. But Goodyear neither plays it safe nor is he ever reckless for the sake of showing his titanic technique, and so he sails triumphantly through the perilous moments that Beethoven sets up for his pianist.

And so it goes, through each and every movement of the three sonatas that comprise the opus number 2 from the year 1795, a happy and productive one for the young Beethoven. Even the second movements of each of the three works, all marked Adagio are expressive, at times melancholy, but never do they approach the depths of profound sadness present in the works from the year 1799 onwards, at which time the still young composer was beginning to experience the first symptoms of the deafness that plagued him for the remainder of his life.

The ten-CD collection, simply titled Beethoven/Stewart Goodyear – The Complete Piano Sonatas is available from Marquis Recordings ( and nicely packaged and engineered. Yet another plus are the insightful and at times irreverently humorous liner notes by Goodyear himself.

I will endeavor to leisurely listen to the remaining 29 sonatas included in this set and make further comments in upcoming posts. For now I simply say that I am thrilled to have this collector’s treasure in my CD library.

Rafael de Acha