Alessio Bax plays Beethoven


Alessio Bax returns to disc on Signum with two masterworks of Beethoven’s piano repertoire, as well as a new arrangement from Die Ruinen von Athen.

Pianist Alessio Bax creates “a ravishing listening experience” (Gramophone) with his lyrical playing, insightful interpretations, and dazzling facility. First Prize winner at the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions – and a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient – he has appeared as soloist with over 100 orchestras.

What people are saying

"No technical demand scares him … A Beethoven CD in a class of its own." Marius Dawn – Pianist, March 2015

"Finely recorded, Alessio Bax is clearly among the most remarkable young pianists now before the public." Gramophone, Editor’s Choice, November 2014

"Highly recommended" Classical Ear, 

Alessio Bax piano

Release date:15th Sep 2014
Order code:SIGCD397
Barcode: 635212039724

To start your first Beethoven release with the gigantic ‘Hammerklavier’ shows chutzpah – and Bax has that in spades. No technical demand scares him, and he often chooses tempos faster than many other pianists, though without ruining the musical sense. His ‘Hammerklavier’, which stands comparison with the finest on CD, is followed by the popular ‘Moonlight’, where Bax glides his was gracefully through the dreamy first movement, never dragging and never pedantic. Only his utterly wild and racing last movement is not to my liking. His own two idiomatic arrangements of music from The Ruins of Athens round off a Beethoven CD in a class of its own.

Pianist Magazine, Marius Dawn

Born in Bari, Alessio Bax won the Leeds Piano Competition in 2000 with a magisterial performance of Brahms’s First Piano Concerto under the baton of Simon Rattle; he is now a resident of New York, with a firmly established career. His discography is wide-ranging, from Bach to Rachmaninov, while with his wife, the pianist Lucille Chung, he has issued a disc of Ligeti’s complete music for four hands on the Dynamic label and a fabulous 2013 recording, also for Signum, of music by Stravinsky, Brahms and Piazzolla. He writes a very entertaining blog, ‘Have Piano, Will Travel’, which goes to show how balanced and well adjusted he is for it is largely devoted to photography and food, including a lovingly crafted recipe for Tiramisu, which he posted just yesterday! (I wrote this review early in November).

He opens with Beethoven’s longest and most challenging of piano sonatas and there can be no doubting Bax’s technique or his total musical conviction. The reading of the slow movement is beautifully nuanced, and while his tempos fall into line with the vast majority of interpreters, erring just a little on the fast side, there is nonetheless a slight rhythmic freedom which distinguishes this from the gritty and rigorous approaches of the likes of Gilels or, more recently, the remarkable debut album by the young Igor Levit, featuring all five of the late sonatas. It’s perhaps most audible in the fleeting Scherzo in which Bax indulges those tiny little questioning phrases, seeking a conversation and a dialogue which is not wholly compatible with a strict rhythmic approach. 

There are many other such movements in the outer movements, but this is not to imply a mannered or an indulgent approach: it’s just that the overarching rhythmic power of this work is not brought out as powerfully as it often is. This slightly Romantic sheen is apparent too in the use of the pedal: despite the clarity of the passagework and the slight brightness of tone which further characterises this reading, Bax’s pedalling provides warmth and a depth of tone in contrast to the purity of the more Classical approach from the likes of Brendal and Uchida (and Bax can’t resist a low B flat ((bar 350, outside the range of Beethoven’s fortepiano)) in the final peroration). 

There’s no faulting Bax’s reading of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, the tranquil pace of the opening movement constantly unsettled by its brooding chromaticism, and a stormy finale which is truly Presto and agitato, nimble and lithe, with the awkward left-hand melodies beautifully brought out. 

Like another young virtuoso, Yevgeny Sudbin, Bax likes to include some of his own arrangements (Bax and his wife arrange four Piazzolla tangos for the release mentioned above), and here he includes two movements from The Ruins of Athens, Op. 113, the ‘Chorus of the Dervishes’ and the Turkish March, again revealing the neatness of his trills and the clarity of chordal articulation which had been so impressive in the outer movements of the Hammerklavier. The March is taken at breakneck speed, and is very exciting for it, a far cry from Grigory Ginsburg’s rather sedate 1952 recording of Anton Rubinstein’s comparatively unadventurous arrangement. 

as for his previous disc, the notes by Patrick Castillo are excellent – it’s always a pleasure to have musical examples printed in the booklet, and it happens all too rarely – and I thoroughly recommend this release. Needless to say, the competition is immense in this repertoire and, while I would note make this a first choice – Levit’s is just that, and he demands to be heard – there is nevertheless a huge amount to be enjoyed in these performances. 

Nicholas Salwey, International Record Review

The award-winning pianist Alessio Bax turns his talents to two masterworks of Beethoven’s piano repertoire. An incisive rendition of Sonata No 14 is coupled with dynamic performance of Sonata 29 Hammerklavier. The album is rounded off with Bax’s arrangement of The Ruins of Athens.

Northern Echo

Editor’s Choice, November 2014

A powerful, personal and entirely successful surmounting of the Hammerklavier’s fearsome challenges 

Often known as ‘the Mount Everest of the keyboard’, Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata poses every conceivable problem, musically and technically (though the two are indissoluble). Even Myra Hess, a great Beethoven pianist, was daunted by its demands, leaving it to others for public performance. For Alessio Bax the challenge remains, but is superbly resolved in a reading of a formidable pace and impetus yet leaving ample time for expressive resource. His opening Allegro is like a river in full spate (though sharply focused rather than, as in Schnabel’s case, a frenetic race against the clock). At the same time the great Adagio sostenuto, appassionato e con molto sentimento is just that, finely shaded and tautly disciplined, while Bax’s final fugue, rapid and resolute, is, as Stravinsky put it, ‘contemporary forever’. Even when compared to legendary performances of this sonata (Kempff, Richter, Gilels, Brendel, etc), this performance stands its ground in music to test the technique and intellect of even the greatest pianists.

Bax’s Moonlight Sonata opens with a fast-flowingandante rather than adagio, yet the playing is so fine-toned and poetically responsive that it creates its own classic sheen. His central Allegretto is bright and perky (quite without, say, Arrau’s over-emphasis) and in the finale he creates a furious tempest of sound, with sforzando chords at the apex of each phrase like pistol shots. For a step into the light there are two Beethoven-Bax encores, the Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes and Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens, both as dazzling as they are witty (the former with an Alkanesque turn of mind). Finely recorded, Alessio Bax is clearly among the most remarkable young pianists now before the public.


Andrew McGregor: Beethoven next from a Leeds competition winner, Alessio Bax. Jessica Duchen, what do you hope for from the beginning of any performance of the Hammerklavier sontata?

Jessica Duchen: Well, the Hammerklavier being one of the most extraordinary things ever composed for an instrument as supposedly modest as a piano, I want a real statement of intent from this opening; I want something that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and says ‘we’re off, we’re on a major journey, come and listen’

Andrew McGregor: Let’s see if Alessio Bax can do it… [music]

Jessica Duchen: I find this a wonderfully fresh and lively, energetic recording. Sometimes you can get the sense that pianists are intimidated by this piece; it can come over as portentous or pompous in some way – and there isn’t one jot of that emotion about the way Bax plays it. It’s energetic, it’s youthful, there’s real immediacy to it, and a sensual beauty in those wonderful descending legato passages in the second subject there.

Andrew McGregor: Roger you looked like you were reacting well to what we were hearing just then – is this your kind of Hammerklavier? […]

Roger Vignoles: […] I like the way Bax is much fresher with it; there’s flexibility and a real imagination. There are so many different ideas in that exposition and he lays them out, allowing them to have their different characters as it unfolds. As Jessica says it’s really quite sensuous playing, all those strings of quavers. When that beautiful dolce melody emerges – almost Schumann-esque in its colour – I really like it very much.


Jessica Duchen: The slow movement is a remarkable achievement. It takes a sheer effort of will to sustain the sheer span of it and I think that Bax has done an amazing job here; the sound quality is gorgeous and you can just sink into it like a wonderful hot bath […]

Roger Vignoles: At the same time I really think he knows where it’s going to go, and there are eighteen minutes of music to be encompassed.


Andrew McGregor: Alessio Bax capturing what he calls in his notes ‘the depth and desperate inner beauty’ of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata slow movement. A certain Chopineque nocturne quality that Roger Vignoles was remarking on as we listened […]

Jessica Duchen: It’s very hard to pull [the ‘Moonlight’ sonata] off without it sounding ‘ploddy’, and what he does with it is the complete opposite of that. It’s a very flowing tempo over which the top line just comes in and floats. It is very ethereal and very beautifully controlled, with wonderful tone quality all the way through.


Roger Vignoles: I love the way the triplets just floated (as Jessica says) like mist, and I admire the fact that he doesn’t feel it necessary to make every harmonic point, but just allows them to happen – and therefore makes that point. It’s very stylish playing.

Andrew McGregor: […] what about the encores? He gives us arrangements of two pieces of theatrical Beethoven; Bax’s own arrangements of Turkish March and Chorus of Dervishes from The Ruins of Athens. They round it off very nicely don’t they?

Jessica Duchen: They’re enormous fun. I think that’s one of the things that really stood out about this disc for me; you feel he’s really enjoying it and he’s milking it for thrills in some ways. He does sail close to the wind at times with the tempo, but you just can’t help being swept along by the sheer fun of it.

BBC Radio 3 CD review

It’s in at the deep (and the divine) ends of Beethoven’s piano sonatas – the gargantuan Hammerklavier and dreamlike Moonlight – for Alessio Bax’s first encounter with the composer on disc. The Hammerklavier is not to be attempted too early in a pianist’s career, but Bax, now in his mid-30s, has clearly come to it at the right time. It’s a reading distinguished by one impressive technical accomplishment after another: the opening Allegro vivid and fresh, the imposing Adagio sostenuto dispatched with consummate eloquence, the finale ripely balancing poetry and drama. There’s revealing nuance aplenty, too, in playing that stands comparison with the best in the field: Richter, Kempff, Gilels and, not least, Brendel, whose probing poetic pragmatism is everywhere in evidence on a major accomplishment for the young Italian. The Moonlight Sonata is just as vital: Bax liquescently graceful throughout yet forcefully robust in the concluding Presto agitato. Bax’s own virtuosic arrangements of two excerpts from The Ruins of Athens round proceedings off with witty aplomb. Highly recommended. 

Michael Quinn, Classical Ear

  1. Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”: I. Allegro – Ludwig van Beethoven – 10.59
  2. Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”: II. Scherzo, Assai vivace – Ludwig van Beethoven – 2.31
  3. Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”: III. Adagio sostenuto, appassionato e con molto sentiment – Ludwig van Beethoven – 18.50
  4. Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”: IV. Largo – Allegro risoluto – Ludwig van Beethoven – 11.25
  5. Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”: I. Adagio sostenuto – Ludwig van Beethoven – 5.04
  6. Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”: II. Allegretto – Ludwig van Beethoven – 2.07
  7. Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”: III. Presto agitato – Ludwig van Beethoven – 7.06
  8. Die Ruinen von Athen, Op. 113: Chorus of the Whirling Dervishes (arr. Alessio Bax) – Ludwig van Beethoven – 2.29
  9. Die Ruinen von Athen, Op. 113: Turkish March (arr. Alessio Bax) – Ludwig van Beethoven – 1.46