Pianist Saleem Ashkar, with a Palestinian Christian background, has gained attention for recitals in Berlin and London, and with this double-CD set he launches a complete cycle of Beethoven
's piano sonatas, an ambitious goal for any pianist, given the profusion already available. Fortunately, Ashkar has something to say about these works. These are hard-edged Beethoven interpretations that reflect a good deal of thought, and then a good deal of practice. The winner here is probably the "Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1," never a favorite in the Beethoven canon and one that's hard to bring off successfully. In Ashkar's hands, it's a rock 'em, sock 'em thrill ride, careening from one impulse to another. The two brilliant works -- "Op. 10, No. 1" and the "Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3" -- fare slightly better than the more reflective "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight)," where Ashkar's opening movement meanders, and the "Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109," although the trills and scales in the big variation finale of the latter work are well-executed indeed. Those wanting Beethoven with a bit of muscular star quality may well rejoice at Ashkar's album, and all should look forward to the rest of the cycle. He is backed by admirably lucid sound from Decca's engineers, working in the Kulturstall concert hall at Britz Castle, Berlin.