Recital Review

Beethoven Piano Sonatas - Martino Tirimo (piano), St John's, Smith Square, June 23rd 2000. (CC)


Tirimo is coming towards the end of his cycle of Beethoven Sonatas at St John's. This concert exemplified many of the virtues that have characterised his venture. Throughout, careful, balanced programming and carefully considered interpretations have resulted in a series of satisfying evenings from a sensitive, mature interpreter.

He has seemed at his happiest in the later sonatas (there was a memorable 'Hammerklavier' earlier in the series in which, for once, technical difficulties took second place to the musical vision), and this was again in evidence. Tirimo compensated for St John's somewhat cavernous acoustic well, so that inner details came through with admirable clarity: the left hand triplets in the last movement of Op. 14 No. 1 were clean and smooth, for example. Occasionally, however, the momentum was allowed to slacken and Beethoven's taut musical argument sagged - this happened in both the second movement of this sonata and in the finale to Op. 31 No. 2. In his excellent programme notes (what a change to have a fascinating commentary on this repertoire from the pianist himself!) Tirimo justifies his moderate tempo for the latter. The marking is, after all, Allegretto. But I would have liked just a touch more sense of harmonic line throughout this movement to compensate for the slower tempo.

The short second movement of Op. 14 No. 2 was the highlight of the first half. The variations were so expertly and delightfully characterised that one wonders whether a Diabelli Variations will be forthcoming at some point . The late Sonatas pose a unique and some would claim insurmountable challenge to the interpreter. Perhaps the shadow of Op. 101 fell over the 'Moonlight'. The famous first movement of Op. 27 No. 2 lacked the stillness it so desperately requires to succeed, and some inner voice detail so crucial to the excitement of the last movement was fudged. The missing tranquility returned for a spellbinding first movement to Op. 101. The performance of this sonata was worth the price of entrance alone. The intimacy of the opening drew the audience into this fascinating world, and the barren terrain of the third movement was (rightly) unapologetically presented. Tirimo understands the integral function of trills in late Beethoven: no longer mere ornaments, they generate real energy as part of this fascinating journey. Whether I agree with encores after late Beethoven is another point, but on this occasion the Bagatelle Tirimo chose seemed entirely apt.

The cycle concludes on Wednesday July 12th with the two Sonatas Op. 49, the E flat Op. 31 No. 3, the Funeral March Op. 26 and the final C minor, Op. 111.

Colin Clarke

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