An interesting combination,
but of what? Of late classical Viennese
and early twentieth century Viennese
masters? Or is it very early and very
late Romantic works? Leaving aside such
simplistic comparisons, they are clearly
works that suit this particular pianist
who brings his great qualities of clarity
and variety of touch to both styles.
We may sometimes need
to remind ourselves, faced with the
images of Beethoven as a wild, unkempt
genius, that he was less a proto-Romantic
than a highly sophisticated Classical
composer. His achievement was to hugely
extend and enrich the Classical form
but not invent the Romantic style. The
modified sonata form he used for Opp.
101 and 109 owe more to the baroque
models of Handel and C.P.E. Bach than
any forecast of rhapsodic Romantic structures.
It is arguable that the Romantic composers
who admired Beethoven the most – Brahms
and Berlioz – are also the most Classical
of the nineteenth century (almost Baroque
in the case of Brahms).
This is a great CD
for those who see Beethoven as essentially
a Classicist. Andreas Klein, who is
German-born but trained at the Juilliard
School, plays the two sonatas with a
full understanding of Beethoven’s antecedents.
His playing is light and crisp but weighty
where necessary; he pays scrupulous
attention to Beethoven’s markings. Throughout,
the part-writing is clear and there
is no exaggeration. Klein always lets
the music speak for itself.
The first movement
of Op. 110 is surprisingly dance-like,
the siciliano rhythm beautifully pointed.
The March, a sharp precursor of Alkan’s
and Schumann’s exercises in dotted rhythm,
is played with wit, the simple two-part
writing of the Trio smoothly contrasted.
Klein lets the ‘Sehnsucht’ of the Adagio
emerge naturally without the application
of undue sentiment. The Allegro finale,
a typically indestructible example of
Beethoven’s thorough working out of
fragmentary themes, is played with strength
Op. 109, more ‘late-period’
in its alternation of sonata and fantasia
styles fares just as well. Klein captures
equally the grace of the Vivace with
its Adagio Espressivo interludes and
the strength of the Prestissimo. The
third movement theme and variations
receive a finely-judged performance;
the variations are superbly contrasted,
culminating in the sixth where the multiple
trills are beautifully controlled and
conjure up a serene atmosphere. The
final, almost unaltered, statement of
the theme, comes as a moment of comforting
A late-romantic piano
piece written in the most advanced tonal
language; must be heavy, thick-textured,
exhausting to listen to? Not a bit of
it; this performance of Berg’s Piano
Sonata Op. 1 is none of these things.
For a start, Berg, for all his use of
intense chording and dense part-writing,
builds light into the narrative to varied
effect. The sonata is one of the results
of three years study with Schoenberg
and is a smaller-scale use of the musical
language that produced works like Verklärte
Nacht. For all Berg’s disparagement
of the Russian master, there is also
a clear connection to Scriabin’s later
sonatas, though without the rhythmic
innovations. Influences from earlier
include Liszt, whose B Minor Sonata
contains similar alternations of passion
and lyrical yearning.
Andreas Klein contributes
those same virtues of clarity and lack
of exaggeration as he does to Beethoven.
The complex texture is never heavy and
Klein brings light and shade to the
sometimes fevered chromaticism. In his
Carnegie Hall recital CD on Sony, Pierre-Laurent
Aimard is rather more conventionally
late-romantic, particularly in the big
climaxes. If you like greater fervency
and stronger dynamic contrasts in this
work, that may be the version for you.
Klein’s performance is more restrained,
almost classical while still retaining
the twilight, fin-de-siècle feeling
of the work.
If the combination
of works appeals, this is a heartily
recommendable CD, especially if its
Classical approach is as much to your
taste as it was to mine.