Pletnev's double CD set is an absolute treasure. Practically every piano piece Beethoven composed that you haven't already got on CD! All the Bagatelles, two Rondos, five sets of Variations, Minuets, a Polonaise and an Andante.
The first piece - appropriately - is the very composition for piano that Beethoven ever published. He was 11 years of age. The Variations on a march by Dressler are, as Barry Cooper points out in his comprehensive and indispensable notes, an early statement by Beethoven of his manifesto: life is a serious business. And Pletnev's playing bears this out; you'd think almost this was a composition by a mature Beethoven. And marvel at how an 11 year old boy could play - let alone compose - the ninth and final variation. Each variation seems to grow out of the one before - the 'structure' I've mentioned that seems to be missing in lesser composers.
Disc 2 contains an absolute favorite of mine, not to mention hundreds of amateur Viennese pianists in Beethoven's time. The Andante in F major, known as the "Andante favori". The nickname was given by Beethoven, exasperated at its popularity. "I can't walk down the street without hearing it coming from one window or another!" he complained.
I could perhaps have wished for a little more explosiveness in the jaunty middle section, but as I've said regarding the Opus 119 Bagatelles, Pletnev invests every piece with a seriousness, almost somberness, as if he can't quite let himself go. And so his reading of the Andante takes almost a minute longer than the only other recording I have of it.
The little Rondos are a delight, and I have to confess I did not know Beethoven wrote a set of six variations on a Swiss Song. He wrote them either just before or after his arrival in Vienna as a 21 year old determined to make his way as a composer, and they are clearly the effort of a young man feeling his way.--John Suchet