> BEETHOVEN Complete Piano Sonatas:Claves 50970710 [KM]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Complete Piano Sonatas on Period Instruments

Sonata No.1 in f minor Op.2 No.1 Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.2 in A major Op.2 No.2 Tom Beghin
Sonata No.3 in C major Op.2 No.3 David Breitman
Sonata No.4 in E-flat major Op.7 Der Verliebte Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.5 in c minor Op.10 No.1 Bart van Oort
Sonata No.6 in F major Op.10 No.2 Ursula Dütschler
Sonata No.7 in D major Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.8 in c minor Pathétique Tom Beghin
Sonata No.9 in E major Op.14 No.1 Bart van Oort
Sonata No.10 in G major Op.14 No.2 Ursula Dütschler
Sonata No.11 in B-flat major Op.22 Zvi Meniker
Sonata No.12 in A-flat major Op.26 Andrew Willis
Sonata No.13 quasi una fantasia in E-flat major Op.27 No.1 Ursula Dütschler
Sonata No.14 quasi una fantasia in c-sharp minor Op.27 No.2 Mondschein MalcolmBilson
Sonata No.15 in D major Op.28 Pastorale David Breitman
Sonata No.16 in G major Op.31 No.1 Ursula Dütschler
Sonata No.17 in d minor Op.31 No.2 Der Sturm Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.1 8 in E-flat major Op.31 No.3 Zvi Meniker
Sonata No.19 in g minor Op.49 No.1 Zvi Meniker
Sonata No.20 in G major Op.49 No.2 Andrew Willis
Sonata No.21 in C major Op.53 Waldstein Bart van Oort
Sonata No.21 in C major Op.53 Waldstein Bart van Oort
Andante in F major WoO 57 Andante favori Andrew Willis
Sonata No.22 in F major Op.54 Andrew Willis
Sonata No.23 in f minor Op.57 Appassionata Zvi Meniker
Sonata No.24 in f-sharp minor Op.78 Therese David Breitman
Sonata No.25 in G major Op.79 Tom Beghin
Sonata No.26 in E-flat major Op.81a Das Lebewohl Bart van Oort
Sonata No.27 in e minor Op.90 Tom Beghin
Sonata No.28 in A major Op.101 Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.29 in B-flat major Hammerklavier Andrew Willis
Sonata No.30 in E major Op.109 Malcolm Bilson
Sonata No.31 in A-flat major Op.110 David Breitman
Sonata No.32 in c- minor Op.111 Tom Beghin
Sonata in E-flat major WoO 47 No.1 (Bonn No.1) Zvi Meniker
Sonata in f minor WoO 47 No.2 (Bonn No.2) David Breitman
Sonata in D major WoO 47 No.3 (Bonn No.3) Ursula Dütschler
Malcolm Bilson, Tom Beghin, David Breitman, Ursula Dütschler, Zvi Meniker, Bart van Oort, Andrew Willis, fortepiano

Rec.: March, June, July, November 1996, Masterview Sound Studio, Ithack, New York, and Maria Minor Church, Utrecht, Holland.
CLAVES CD 50-9707/10 [11.28.50]


Crotchet  £89.50 AmazonUK £89.99  AmazonUS

The fortepiano is the earliest form of the piano, and has a very limited relationship with today's Steinway. Its sound is sharper, with much less resonance in the low notes, and its decay is much faster. Close to the harpsichord in this respect, it is nevertheless built with felt hammers, and not plucked like the harpsichord. In addition, as Malcolm Bilson says in the beautifully-prepared booklet that accompanies this set, "These earlier instruments can suggest very different gestures from those proffered by the modern piano, and can lead the player down quite different paths of expression."

Recent years have seen an upsurge of performances on this instrument, whether they be of sonatas by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. This is logical, because, as period practice becomes more common, both musicians and listeners are seeking to hear the music in a form much closer to the original.

Nine instruments are used for this recording, and a total of seven pianists perform. This set is the first complete recording of Beethoven’s piano sonatas on historical instruments, that is, the type of instrument Beethoven used when composing theses works. Although, since Beethoven’s earliest scores specified that they were for harpsichord or fortepiano, perhaps the earliest works deserve to be recorded on the harpsichord as well!

The long runs in the Allegro Vivace of the second sonata take on their true effect with this instrument; since the sound is crisper, the notes are all heard more clearly than on a modern piano. The opening Allegro of sonata no. 6, with its virtuoso runs, comes of beautifully here as well; each note rings out brilliantly, and Ursula Dütschler’s playing of this movement is breathtaking.

The vivacious Presto of the seventh sonata contains many rapid passages; again, these take on a much different definition on a fortepiano, and, especially, have much less resonance. This gives the music a lighter, more airy feeling than many other performances. However, the Largo e mesto of the same sonata might be jarring to listeners used to only modern instruments - this movement, on a Steinway, sounds like a totally different piece, with the resonance and pedal effects that some pianists use, yet the nuances of dynamics on the fortepiano are beautiful.

One perhaps best hears the unique sound of the fortepiano in sonata no. 11, in the Adagio con molt’espressione. This slow, very slow movement with its simple musical structure - walking bass notes and a subtle, almost minimal treble melody - allow the instrument to take center stage. The bass notes are resonant without echoing, and the treble notes sparkle without bubbling too much. Zvi Meniker’s performance of this movement is beautifully expressive, he declaims the melodies with rich emotion.

One might think from the above comments that the fortepiano gives a "light" version of these works. This is not the case, and the Marcia funebre of the twelfth sonata is a good example of how even the darkest passages work well. This dirge-like movement comes through with a unique resonance on this instrument, played by Andrew Willis, and has perhaps even more intensity than many performances on modern instruments. While the tempo is slightly faster than some performances, there is perhaps a greater tension in the sound provided by the fortepiano. The lack of overall resonance makes the chords more striking, more incisive.

Some listeners may find it difficult to appreciate the Moonlight sonata, no. 14, on this instrument. The slow arpeggios of the opening Adagio sostenuto are very soft and subtle, as opposed to the "modern" sound with, again, much more resonance. Malcolm Bilson, who plays this work, mentions in the notes, says that he plays "the entire movement with dampers raised and the moderator engaged. […] one must play very softly in order to make the blurring gentle and sensuous. Beethoven’s sonatas were, however, not conceived with public concerts in mind, hence this version seem appropriate for performance in a small room, or for the intimate sound of recording. Please don’t turn the volume up too loud…" All I can say is that he succeeds in bringing to this movement a tone that is at once wondrous and sensuous, and achieves something unique.

One of the most exciting movements in this entire set is the Andante of Sonata no. 15. Played at a much faster tempo than most performers - just over 6 minutes - David Breitman gives this piece exhilarating rhythm and syncopates it like a jazz number. The result is foot-tapping - perhaps not what most listeners expect of Beethoven - and memorable. This movement shows how one can have a totally different perspective on Beethoven.

An interesting addition to this set is the inclusion of the three "Bonn Sonatas" written when Beethoven was twelve years old. While not masterpieces in any way, they do give a glimpse of where Beethoven would later head.

All of the performers take a different approach to ornamentation. Some of the players vary the repeats more than others, occasionally taking liberties that exceed the text. This is not a problem - after all, Beethoven himself is known to have done this. On the contrary, this approach makes the music even more interesting on repeated listenings.

If there is one negative aspect to this set, it is the use of so many different instruments and pianists. On many of the discs, there are three or four different instruments and performers. This gives the set a feeling that bits were stuck together; not movements, of course, but entire sonatas with different sounds and styles appear on the same disc. The recordings themselves vary just as much, and, while they are all very up-front and devoid of artificial reverberation, there is a noticeable difference. The recording quality is not among the main reasons to buy this set.

Claves deserves kudos for the quality of the notes accompanying this set. The richly-illustrated 200-page booklet (in English, German and French) gives a wealth of information about the sonatas and the individual performances.

This is a magnificent set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, played on the type of instrument he used when composing them. Many listeners will be uncomfortable with the pianoforte; it is so very different from the modern piano. But these recordings give a totally new perspective on these essential piano works. This set belongs on the shelves of every lover of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

Kirk McElhearn



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