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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in F minor, nr. 23 "Appassionata" (op. 57) [21:37]
Sonata in C major, nr. 21 "Waldstein/Aurora" (op. 53) [22:11]
Sonata in D minor, nr.17 "Tempest" (opus 31, nr.2) [18:49]
Fazil Say (piano)
Rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland, June 2005. DDD.
NAÏVE V 5016 [62:37]
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Comparative version of opp. 31, no.2 and 53: Maurizio Pollini on DG 427 642-2

This is a notable addition to Fazil Say’s slim discography for Naïve, showing that it is quality he’s interested in as an artist. Given his many commitments as a solo artist, chamber musician and composer it is unsurprising that his recordings are not more frequent.

The presentation of three mid-period Beethoven sonatas - though for some reason presented in reverse order to composition - brings Say into direct comparison with every great pianist that set these works down for posterity. But what I love - yes, love – about his approach is that he is unafraid of any of them. So assured is his technique and interpretive skill that he is more than equal to taking on Beethoven on his own terms. Among those terms I surely have to count being a composer, as each work here smacks of being heard through a composer’s ears rather than just a pianist’s hands.

Appassionata sonata: The evocation of hesitant shadows before the stormy outburst is atmospherically caught, but when the brief storm comes you really feel it. Passagework is attacked often savagely, but even where this is not stated it remains implied. The piano is recorded with ample fullness of tone to represent the extremes to which Beethoven pushed the instrument. Unprepared listeners might be left reaching for the volume control, but I could not resist leaving it – perhaps a little too loud – the roller-coaster ride of emotions being too absorbing to care otherwise. Anyhow, it seemed to fit with Say’s robust and argumentative conception of Beethoven the man as seen through his music. The first movement, being fairly driven both in terms of tempo and tone benefits to a large extent from the fact that moments of inner-looking quiet register fully.

The central Andante con moto builds impressively through finely projected and clearly articulated tone. Say’s playing leaves the trace of music that means much to him, and this comes through his careful yet not over-studied sense of sonority, again allowing contrasts to be fully registered – the cloudy bass register with the bell like clarity of the treble register. The closing Allegro ma non troppo begins with true agitation, as it should – leading to a transition that is articulately handled to give a real sense of perspective to the movement’s development prior to the return of the first subject, full of punchy authority.

If the other two sonatas are cut from much the same cloth interpretively, and they are, I can see little wrong in this. True, his interpretations of opp. 31, no.2 and 53 might not have Pollini’s individuality about them but they are resolutely mid-period Beethoven delivered with fire and enthusiasm allied with strength of technique. It says much for Fazil Say that where others might power on and ride slipshod over the details he takes care over them without neglecting the structure he works within. I found his finely wrought chiaroscuro opening to the Waldstein’s Allegro molto most sensitively handled, yet what followed possessed a strength that was apt and in place. The Tempest’s strength and destructive power might be slower to arrive with Say than Pollini, but from the first it is there. His way of using the natural pauses in the written line gives the ensuing onslaught all the more energy, which contrasts with the Adagio’s poetry. The Allegretto brings it all to a clean and crisp conclusion. This is Beethoven with an edge from an assured artist still in his ascendancy, and it makes for a thrilling experience that I shall return to often with pleasure.

Evan Dickerson

see also review by Kevin Sutton



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