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Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas were his musical laboratory – here are the best recordings

If you want to understand Beethoven, listen to his piano sonatas. Without them, you’ll never grasp how the same man could write the hummable, easy-listening Septet of 1799 and the scraped dissonances of the 1825 Grosse Fuge, which even today scares Classic FM listeners. It’s the 32 sonatas, not the nine symphonies or 16 string quartets, that join the dots. The symphonies are monuments rather than a guidebook. For example, the Second doesn’t warn you that the Eroica is about to explode in your face. The quartets, meanwhile, jump from the six of Opus 18, in which Beethoven essentially pours new wine into old bottles, to the three Razumovskys of