Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [13:04]
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op. 110 (1821) [20:02]
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (1821-22) [22:48]
rec. Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York City,
20-29 June 1956
I don’t know why I received a jolt when I saw that Gould’s Beethoven
sonatas had been Naxosed. Perhaps it was the early death or the
feeling that he is somehow still very much our contemporary. At
any event these recordings were made in June 1956 so they are
perfectly valid entrants in the Naxos Historical line.
So should you have
missed a Sony incarnation this is an inexpensive way to get hold
of his frequently bizarre Beethoven performances. Op.109 opens
relatively stably though sketchy as to detail. Variation three
of the finale is absurdly fast and the succeeding variations fluctuate
wildly. The effect physically and perhaps psychologically – always
a dangerous area to psychoanalyse Gouldian performance – is to
destabilise accepted structural and emotive norms. Op.110’s opening
movement lacks the kind of madcap caprice that so disfigured the
earlier work though it is rather perfunctory. The scherzo lacks
expressive depth – or deigns to find such in the music – whilst
the finale features some stratospheric chording before the final
Op.111 is an extreme
example of Gouldian perversity. If you didn’t know the performance
especially well you might think that it had been speeded up.
This is particularly true of the first movement which becomes,
in Gould’s hands, a Keystone Kops episode. It is quite clearly
an anti-reading, one dedicated to subverting Beethovenian hierarchies.
Gould wrote specifically about the ’nonsense’ he felt had accrued
to the last sonatas and quartets, railing at such as Huxley
and Mann, whom amongst then contemporary novelists he singled
out for especial criticism. Presumably he found their edifice
building, the philosophical superstructures they propounded
and the Sophoclean heights they found in late Beethoven, anathema
to his purely pianistic view of the matter. The result was a
clash of cultures the like of which music seldom sees – or hears.
The emigré Europeans with their highfalutin’ fantasies were
being scythed down by the North American pragmatist. The results
though were, and are, bizarre. The irony is that it’s still
Mann and Huxley’s Beethoven that largely prevails. Gould’s is
By all means acquaint
yourself with this well transferred Naxos issue – but be prepared,
if you’ve not heard the performances, for an act of didactic
defiance rather than a musical compromise.
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