What Schnabel was striving for is suggested by a comment that Beethoven allegedly made, describing his method of composition. “The work in width, in length, in height and in depth begins in my head,” he said, “and since I am aware of what I want, the basic idea never leaves me. “
This is what Schnabel does with these sonatas: breadth and sweep, even when the tempos he takes are so rushed that the passages become muddy and the sentences are truncated. His remarkably fluid technique manifests itself continuously – for example, in the dynamic, spiral finale of Sonata No. 3 in C (Op. 2, No. 3). Yes, he drops a few notes, but the form and character of the game are wonderful.
However, why did he approve his recording of the demonic finale of “Appassionata”, which despite all its excitement sometimes seems sloppy? Perhaps because capturing music for posterity was still a fairly new concept. I doubt that Schnabel imagined that these recordings would be considered immortal archive documents.
It didn’t really matter to him either. Schnabel must have been seduced in the studio. The recordings, as he will write later, “are against the very nature” of a performance, which is said to “only happen once, to be absolutely fleeting and irreplaceable.”
Like Schnabel, Levit strives to convey the overall breadth and depth of music, although he is scrupulously attentive to every note, rhythm and articulation. The finale of Sonata No. 24 in F sharp offers a revealing comparison.