REVIEWS

“The centrepiece is a wide-ranging and intelligent interpretation of the Diabelli Variations.  Guembes-Buchanan marries an awareness of the style of each variation with a fine feeling for the work’s architecture. Her strong fingerwork ensures that the crispness of the so-called ‘Don Giovanni’ variation is magnificent. By contrast, the simplicity of Variation 30 offers a key to her depth and rigour. The second disc is finer still. Guembes-Buchanan is expert at finding the character of each Bagatelle, while her fluency, when required, is ideal. It is not exaggerating to put these readings up there with the likes of Brendel, Serkin and Schnabel. A sense of musicological rigour, too, hangs over the enterprise, with detailed, footnoted booklet notes by the pianist herself.”

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 “This is a most important and, in its way, significant release:  I do not know if Hoffmann’s Sonatas have been recorded before – I have never encountered them, either live or on disc – but the result here, alongside Schumann’s Kreisleriana in a beautifully-proportioned recording, is a set of discs that shed new light on the music of the first half of the 19th-century in Germany.  On this showing, Hoffmann’s music would seem to be ripe for rediscovery, in which case this issue will come to be seen as having performed a signal service.”

James Palmer, Musical Opinion


“The Op. 119 and 126 Bagatelles compare favorably with other recordings I have liked … some extremely interesting interpretive touches: a bit of hesitation in 119:1 (G minor); a wonderfully medium tempo, shy performance of the aphoristic 119:10 (A major); and a fine variety of note lengths in 126:4 (B-minor), mostly tending away from the violent staccato that is usually employed.“

Haskins, American Record Guide


“The Kinderszenen is tender and considered; long study has clearly gone into this reading. Pedalling is particularly impressive, and Guembes-Buchanan manages to avoid cliché in a remarkably fresh “Traumerei”.  We move to another sphere for Kreisleriana, whose opening swirling gesture carries great import … the Second Piano Sonata should be programmed more often.  It is a magnificent work, as Guembes-Buchanan proves in a performance of much energy.”

Colin Clarke, International Piano


“I cannot recommend this album highly enough. But then again, I can’t recall a recording by Guembes-Buchanan that I haven’t recommended highly. She is one of the most gifted and interesting pianists on the scene today, and nearly everything she releases bears the stamp of genius.”

Lynn René Bayley, Fanfare


Late Beethoven such as the Bagatelles, Op.119 and the Diabelli Variations Op.120 appear to have arrived in music’s world not in a dimming of the light that comes at the end of life, but like an immeasurable future; an unimaginable time beyond time. Certainly the immortal Variations, all 33 of them, coming as they did on the heels of the great Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach, heralded a Beethoven whose creative urge seemed to have swelled like a kind of historical floodwater, bearing Anton Diabelli’s prosaic waltz upon its crest.  Luisa Guembes-Buchanan’s recording of the Diabelli is a classic, as free flowing as Beethoven’s approach to the variation form. Her playing is muscular, yet supple, accentuating the integrity of each variation without sacrificing the sense of overall structure. That all-important final chord is like a goal reached at the end of a long, long journey.  The pianist’s approach to the Bagatelles – among the best-known of Beethoven’s shorter pieces – is a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, bringing out the vigour and the fluidity of the pieces but not at the expense of their poetry. Her Fifth Bagatelle is pointedly unsentimental, but most exquisitely and artfully shaped. Theodor Adorno saw late Beethoven works as profound meditations – partly conscious, perhaps – on death. But he admits that “death is imposed only on created beings, not on works of art…” which might explain the immortal nature of these late works, living fragments of life’s beauty.”

Raul da Gama, The Wholenote


“Many commentators have likened the 1828 c minor Sonata, D. 958 to aspects in dark-hued Beethoven, especially his 32 Variations in c minor, WoO 80. The music of Schubert, however, assumes a more improvisatory demeanor than that of the Beethoven opus, with the often anguished opening material’s finding some consolation in E-flat Major.  Yet Schubert prefers the torment of the initial idea for musical development, and the music assumes a grim, sometimes martial resolve. Ms. Guembes-Buchanan does not overly dramatize this potent movement but she does realize the music as a persuasive, highly personal drama. No less intimate, the Adagio proceeds as a kind of melancholy rondo that begins in four-part harmony in A-flat Major. A sad ostinato figure dominates much of the hymn, from which two interludes emerge – one quite contrapuntal – that lead to a string of modulations and a disarmingly simple coda that Fazioli renders diaphonously.  The nervous laendler that constitutes the Menuetto Allegro proceeds in c minor, rather dark for an Austrian dance.  The Trio assumes a more traditional gentility, although our sense of security seems tenuous. The last movement Allegro from its first measures reveals a manic gallop, a pseudo-tarantella that heads to a personal abyss. A series of jarring accents becomes alternately playful and demonic as Schubert evolves its idiosyncratic journey. In many respects the playing here reminds me much of Lili Kraus, another alert, intelligent, and sensitive Schubert acolyte. When the music softens, its voicing has the haunted quality of Der Erkoenig as he seduces the young lad.  How tightly Schubert has woven this mortal coil, and yet the intertwining of Death and Beauty has rarely captivated us so completely. The warm acoustic of the Brinkmann Room, Cambridge, and the instrument, has been captured spaciously by Patrick Lo Re.”

Gary Lemco, Audiophile Audition


“Guembes-Buchanan is both a scholar and a performer, and she has clearly put a great deal of thought and research into her interpretations. That’s not to say they are overly intellectual, in fact they are surprisingly free and lyrical. But she communicates a real understanding of the often convoluted logic that underpins these works. She gives them the gravity they require, but without the music ever becoming turgid. And she has a wonderfully intuitive sense for Beethoven’s melodies. In other hands, the innovative textures and counterpoints of this music can predominate, but Guembes-Buchanan shows that a more melodic approach can solve many of the interpretive issues without bypassing any of the music’s deep emotion.

…  The second disc is devoted to the Op. 102 Cello Sonatas …  The cello’s intonation is flawless and the balance between the two players is ideal.  Of the other five discs, three are devoted to sonatas, one to shorter posthumously published works, and one to the Diabelli Variations. It seems very generous to include so many of these fine works, and fine interpretations, as a single box. … The acoustic provides the ideal balance to Guembes-Buchanan’s precise touch, always warming and never obscuring. The microphones are set close to the piano, adding to the sense of engagement for the listener. … The box this set comes in is fabulous, a real feat of paper engineering. When you slide the discs out of one side, a draw opens at the other to offer you the liner booklet. And the booklet itself is very elegant. It includes comprehensive notes from Guembes-Buchanan and is illustrated with facsimiles of the autograph scores and title pages of the first editions. … this set is very fine indeed. Guembes-Buchanan gives us a refreshing alternative to the more ponderous and weighty versions of the late sonatas on the market. Yet there is nothing reactionary about her interpretations. They are as intense as anybody’s, but have the grace and poetry required to make listening to six discs of this music a continuous pleasure.”

Gavin Dixon, Classical CD Reviews


“Ms. Guembes-Buchanan is a skillful player with an agreeable tone and a very poised approach to Mozart.”

Haskins, American Record Guide


This fine 6-disc set on the Del Aguila label featuring pianist/musicologist Luisa Guembas-Buchanan and cellist Philip Weihrauch is an examination of the products of Beethoven’s final years, taking as its premise that these late works have numerous stylistic qualities in common. And what a wealth of music is included! Not only are there five late piano sonatas (#28 through #32) but also the Diabelli Variations, 11 Bagatelles Op.119 and 6 Bagatelles Op.126, in addition to numerous smaller pieces all from the sketchbook, plus the two Cello Sonatas Op.102 – enough to keep a Beethoven connoisseur happy for weeks!  …  From the serene and reflective opening measures of the Sonata Op.101 to the bravura of the Diabelli Variations, Guembas-Buchanan demonstrates an effortless command of this demanding repertoire. Her playing is noble and majestic, coupled with a flawless technique – quite clearly an artist who not only performs admirably, but possesses a deep understanding of the music and is keen to share that knowledge with others. The two Cello Sonatas presented here, Op. 102 #1 and #2 were composed during the summer of 1814, the very beginning of Beethoven’s late period. Just as in the works for solo piano, Beethoven was also “pushing boundaries” through his use of counterpoint and extensive modulations. Together with cellist Philip Weihrauch, Guembas-Buchanan approaches the music with a bold assurance and both demonstrate a deep affinity for the music. The pleasure in this set is indeed two-fold – apart from the illuminating information provided, it is also great listening – a treat both for Beethoven scholars and those who simply love and admire the music of “the great mogul”.”

Richard Haskell, The Wholenote