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Pavel Kolesnikov has a habit of building intriguing programmes – witness his recent Couperin CD for Hyperion. This new release is a fascinating journey through early- and middle-period Beethoven. The featured Bagatelles and Sonatas mix the overfamiliar (the ubiquitous Moonlight Sonata) with the almost completely unknown: the quartet of tiny Werke ohne Opus with which the programme opens.

At the heart of the programme is the first group of Bagatelles, Op 33, published at the same time, more or less, as the Eroica Symphony. There is little of that work’s epic quality in these seven pieces, which originated from up to 10 years before. Even if ‘mere shavings from his workshop’, they make a delightful set, the template for not just his own later Bagatelles, but also for Schubert’s impromptus and many others after.

When grouped together, the Moonlight and the Sonata No 10 in G major are greater than the sum of their parts, at least partly composed from bagatelles that grew to a more imposing stature, with unconventional layouts. The work that dominates proceedings, however, is the concluding 32 Variations on an original theme in C minor, a wonderful and too-little-known work, arguably the mightiest with no opus number.

Kolesnikov’s playing is focused and involving. The opening movement of the Moonlight sounds artificially quiet in the context of what follows, though its rippling textures are superbly rendered. I am not sure he projects the structure of the G major, with its scherzo-finale, as well as others (compare Paul Lewis on Harmonia Mundi). These are minor cavils, however.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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