(...) Markus Schirmer, a name new to me, is a totally different type of pianist, relishing the classical side of this composer more than the heroic and weightier one that Arrau seems to find. Perhaps it is also the choice of pieces here that makes me think that (op. 49 in total, the sonatinas), but there is even in the op. 27 sonatas a bit more classical sense of balance and light-handedness than one finds in Arrau; the finale to the "Moonlight" is less the storm scene from Eine Alpensinfonie , more a movement from one of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies. I especially find the interpretation of op. 27/1 convincing, as in Schirmer’s hands it sounds less the jumble of movements that it is with many pianists. Here there is an overall arc from beginning to end, revealing the full fantasy-sonata Beethoven surely had in mind. The shorter sonatas of op. 49 and the sonatinas, along with the small variation set on a Swiss folk song, are all well interpreted and well programmed between the larger op. 27 sonatas. If there were one quibble (and there always seems to be at least one) it would be the excruciatingly slow Adagio sostenuto movement in the "Moonlight" Sonata, which clocks in at an unbelievable 8:12. But, considering the tasteful playing of the rest of the recital, this certainly is a small detail. I look forward to hearing more of Schirmer in the years to come.
While these are certainly two different sides of this ever-multifaceted composer, both are equally valid and equally compelling in their best moments. Whether the heroic/fiery side appeals to you or the more sober/lighthearted one does, both are worth acquiring. The sound on the Schirmer is very much a part of our time, vivid and clear, while Arrau’s recording is very much a part of the ’70s. The Arrau makes a very nice package, however, for one looking to learn these works; there are very many shots when seeing how he works out the ever-challenging passagework makes one’s life as a student of these works that much easier. Both recommended then, depending on the type of Beethoven that one enjoys. Scott Noriega