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Brilliant Classics


Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Piano Sonatas
Sonata No. 1 in C major Op.24 (1816)
Sonata No. 2 in A flat major Op.39 (1816)
Sonata No. 3 in D minor Op.49 (1816)
Sonata No. 4 in E minor Op.70 (1822)
Jan Vermeulen (fortepiano)
Recorded in Steurbaut Studios, Gent, 1991/92
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92441 [65.44 + 55.15]


It’s unusual to collate all four of Weber’s sonatas in this way but it’s certainly logical. Other series may be progressing along more sedentary lines – Naxos is releasing Alexander Paley’s edition of Weber’s piano works on single CDs – but Jan Vermeulen has the cachet of both an integral set and a recording on fortepiano as well. This last tends to draw him away from the bulk of competition. There are the occasional Everests in the discography from under which louring peaks it’s impossible ever fully to escape – Mewton-Wood in the First, Moiseiwitsch in the same sonata’s Perpetuum mobile finale or Cortot, say, in the Second.

That said Vermeulen has plenty to say in this repertoire; and even if early Romanticism doesn’t fit him as well as an arch Romantic such as Moiseiwitsch then we can still lend an ear to the Dutchman’s way with Weber. He finds a questing quasi-operatic quality in the opening of the First Sonata though his instrument doesn’t yield much in the way of colours in the middle of its range and he does tend to bang rather more than is good for the music. I didn’t, maybe as a result, find his slow movement overly sympathetic; no real cantabile, there are plenty of active incursions to draw the ear to the ceaseless motion. Less it has to be said to the lyricism. The instrument doubtless contributes to the sense of mechanistic, almost motoric momentum in the finale, which never achieves a classic drama. He plays up the fanfare opening of the Second but can’t draw one’s ear away from the too-often discursive writing. As if in compensation the slow movement has a very driving animation.

He certainly plays on the feroce instructions of the Third as he does – a characteristic by now – the febrile slow movement, which is determinedly non-legato. The Rondo builds on the themes attractively and animates some of Vermeulen’s best playing of this Sonata though I certainly admired more his take on the Fourth. Here the drive and the melancholy are both detonated, as is the sense of linear tension in the Minuet and the elegance and precision of the Andante.

Overall however a recommendation will come down to one’s view of the fortepiano and its utilisation here. Finding its colouristic range limited does tend to obscure the music’s greater potential for romanticised phrasing. Certainly this is worthwhile as an example of performance practice but there’s no substitute for Mewton-Wood or Cortot in their various recordings of individual sonatas.

Jonathan Woolf


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