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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas are monumentally challenging works. So classical listeners pay a lot of attention to pianists who perform all of them. Andras Schiff has played piano on stages all over the world. And several years ago, he took up the challenge of performing and recording all 32 sonatas. And with the release of his most recent album, he has completed that challenge. Our critic, Tom Manoff, has been waiting years for the recording of one sonata in particular.

TOM MANOFF: I heard Andras Schiff play Beethoven Sonata Number 29, also called the "Hammerklavier," some 15 years ago in Frankfurt and was overwhelmed by the performance. I was living in Germany then, and I still remember that fast ride home on the Autobahn, speeding through the dark, my senses awake to everything around me.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's Sonata Number 29)

MANOFF: Sitting back and listening to Schiff's sweeping "Hammerklavier" now puts me again into that heightened state. And the recording offers something more, a closer listen to the details of how Schiff creates his overall performance. Here, Schiff demonstrates his unerring sense of pacing in this choppy melody from the second movement.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's Sonata Number 29)

MANOFF: The third movement shows Schiff as a pure poet. No musical frills here. No wallowing in emotional depths, no ego. Here's a pianist who knows that the performance is really about Beethoven's music, not him.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's Sonata Number 29)

MANOFF: Many pianists are overwhelmed by the "Hammerklavier's" technical difficulties. But Schiff plays with a confidence beyond technique. His understanding of the work allows him a spontaneous unfolding of its fierce logic and astonishing drama. Listening to this performance, the image of Schiff himself fades from me, and only Beethoven's notes are left and that feeling of moving so fast in the night.

(Soundbite of Beethoven's Sonata Number 29)

SIEGEL: Critic Tom Manoff was reviewing the recording of Beethoven's piano Sonata Number 29, the "Hammerklavier," performed by Andras Schiff. And you can listen to more of Schiff's performance at npr.org.

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