(Damian Thompson’s article appeared in the Spectator, 9/7.)

She was one of only four women to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas but the state kept her in obscurity

Only four women pianists have recorded complete cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas: Maria Grinberg, Annie Fischer, H. J. Lim and Mari Kodama. I’ve written before about the chain-smoking ‘Ashtray Annie’ Fischer: she was a true poet of the piano and her Beethoven sonatas are remarkably penetrating — as, alas, is the sound of her beaten-up Bösendorfer. Lim produced her cycle in a hurry when she was just 24; it’s engaging but breathless. Kodama’s set, just completed, is a bit polite.

Which leaves Maria Grinberg (1908–78), whose recordings remain just where the Soviet authorities wanted them. In obscurity. That is shameful — and not because she was the first woman and the first Russian to record all the sonatas. (In those days Jews from Odessa in Ukraine counted as Russians.) This is an unforgettable cycle. Unforgettable, that is, in the unlikely event that you’ve heard it.

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