> Ramzi Yassa plays Liszt and Beethoven [DW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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LISZT Six Lieder von Goethe
BEETHOVEN Sonata in C, op 53 (Waldstein)
BEETHOVEN Sonata in F minor, Op 57 (Appassionata)
Ramzi Yassa
Rec 1990s? (DDD)
PAVANE ADW 7304 [65.49]


Experience Classicsonline

Ramzi Yassa is a talented Egyptian prize-winning pianist who has appeared with such conductors as Sir Charles Groves and Zubin Mehta. We want to hear more from him.

I enjoyed the Beethoven. The Waldstein is a truly great sonata and most of what this pianist does is exemplary. The first movement is described as allegro con brio and I would have preferred more con brio. But the fingerwork dazzles and the pianist is always in control . There are no extremes or excesses. This I very much admire. The pianist observes all the tonal changes and his articulation is first class. The sforzandos are carefully observed. I would have preferred more tension in the fortissimo passages, such as at bar 62 with the pounding left hand A major chords. He plays the repeat and makes a gorgeous sound in the B flat modulation.

At least three times in the sonata Beethoven has extended passages of broken chords, for example bar 120 - 141 in the first movement, which serve no real purpose. This device was taken to excess by Schubert who, in one sonata wrote 9 minutes of nothing but broken chords. Nonetheless it is beautifully played and with a sense of great expectation. Such passages can be awkward and feel as if they do not belong, but here they are put together very well. From bar 180 there are some gorgeous changes of harmony which are superbly realised. I did not see the reason for the unauthorised rallentando before the chorale theme (bar 195, for example) or the slight rallentando before bar 235 but the crashes at bars 252, 254 etc. are stunning. But his other rallentandos work. The linger at the end of bar 292, and later, are very effective. It is the lingering moment before excitement breaks forth. And it does.

There is no slow movement as such but an introduction of 28 bars before the allegretto moderato. This introduction is, to my mind, a marvellous piece. It begins with shifting key centres...F, E, E minor, B, D minor and so on. And the theme starting at the end of bar 9 is choice but never developed. The long fermata at the end of the section really works. We canít wait for the rondo to begin. What delicacy the pianist brings to this and, again, I marvelled at his control. He captures Beethovenís introspection wonderfully well. The cross hands passages are so fluid and effortless. The reintroduction of the theme at bar 115 is simply lovely, a word you may not readily associate with Beethoven.

The episode in E flat which progresses into C minor is strong and quite exciting but even more delightful things are to come. The off-beat passage starting at bar 239 is gloriously telling and simple and the broken chord passage , bars 251 to 312, is note spinning but the fingerwork is excellent. The difficult passage from bar 349 is very exciting. If you lose your nerve here you are in serious trouble. The control is unbelievable. The coda is marked prestissimo and also calls for a cool head. There is another episode, one too many for my taste, but the playing is so good one forgets that even a genius like Beethoven may have had a few weak moments.

The Appassionata is a curious but powerful work which Beethoven regarded highly. He took the manuscript in the rain to a friend in Vienna whose wife played it after it had dried out. Was this woman Beethovenís Ďimmortal belovedí?

The Appassionata is a stormy work as if Beethoven is fighting his feelings. If time permitted we could analyse the score and see the mood changes and what themes or fragments represent what emotion or character. Clearly, this is one of those works where Beethoven bares his soul, perhaps unintentionally.

The mood changes and drama in the opening minute is enough for an hour-long symphony. Beethoven is reluctant to settle down. He and the music are agitated. Eighty seconds in comes that glorious theme but it is short-lived. The anger bursts. Here the pianistís admirable control may not quite suit Beethovenís temper. The composer is turning over in his tortured mind a soliloquy or many thoughts and emotions. The passages for one note in each hand often prior to the main theme suggest a dialogue and, therefore, two only are involved. Passion pours out and that it is what it is ... the natural love and desire of a man for a woman with its moments of hope, anger and anticipated success. Has it ever occurred to us that Beethoven had feelings just like any man? That he remained a bachelor does not alter that.

The finale of this sonata is a tour de force, one of the most exciting piano pieces Beethoven wrote - how well Yassa plays it. I was spellbound. The CD is worth getting just for this movement.

The Liszt pieces are gems, sensitive and beautifully played. Anyone who can play Liszt (the greatest writer for the piano of all time) and with such perfection must be a great pianist.

David Wright


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