What does one say about a work of art such as this? Something that feels forged, an analogue of Achilles' Shield, an miniature epic sweeping you away for a short while before depositing you in a grassy field to rest, where a quartet of satyrs plays late Haydn just to bring you back to earth?
My first encounter with this work was through the recording I'm listening to right now - the 1935 recording of Op. 106 by the legendary Artur Schnabel. (The Naxos Music Libary yields its riches so willingly - it almost seems wrong)
What does one say about this recording? The breathtaking speed and stunning virtuosity? The complete disregard for Beethoven's metronome markings?
Schnabel was the first to record the complete cycle of Sonatas, for HMV, to be sold by subscription to the Beethoven Sonata Society. I wonder what people must have thought, the day the latest Schnabel seventy-eight arrived on their front porch, fresh off the press.
You can see the lucky family gathering around the phonograph table, hurriedly tearing the brown paper open to discover which sonata they were to be graced with this evening - the Hammerklavier! Kids, finish your stew because we're in for a long night!
And what a night it would have been. Yes, Schnabel misses notes, but never has missing a few notes mattered less - it's thrilling nonetheless.
If however, you need technical perfection with your piano, I would suggest Maurizio Pollini's fine recording on Deutsche Grammophon, which is the recording I own. Pollini is often accused of an overly cerebral style, but if like cerebral, as I do, this shouldn't be a problem.
Beyond his stunning technique, and despite the reputation, there's a delicacy and sophistication to his playing of the Hammerklavier which complements the breathtaking Schnabel very well.
I would recommend listening to both, over and over again. Make a day, or perhaps a week of it.