Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, Pathétique (1799) [21:51]
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31/2 (1802) [25:48]
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, Appassionata (1805) [24:54]
Ingrid Fliter (piano)
rec. January and December 2011, Potton Hall, Suffolk, U.K.
EMI CLASSICS 50999 94573 2 [72:58]
This is something quite special. Argentinean pianist Ingrid Fliter has recorded two previous discs for EMI, both of Chopin and both enthusiastically received. She now turns to Beethoven, and since we probably can’t hope for a complete cycle from her, the one disappointment about this issue is perhaps the unadventurous choice of programme. I feel sure she knows more Beethoven sonatas than these three pillars of the repertoire! At least, though, EMI have treated her as a serious artist, with a very fine recording and a substantial booklet note about the music from William Kinderman rather than multiple photographs of the pianist herself.
The opening of the Pathétique is very grave indeed, the darkness of the music underlined by the perfectly voiced chords and, especially, by the presence of an underlying pulse. Fliter launches into the first movement Allegro with huge gusto and marvellously clear arpeggios. We have just got over her deft handling of the mordents in the second subject when there comes a surprise. The end of the exposition is signalled by a pause, extended here, which should then revert to a repeat of the exposition. As indeed it does, but Fliter chooses to return to the very beginning of the slow introduction, and not, as expected, to the beginning of the Allegro. Memory can be fallible, but I don’t recall ever hearing the sonata played like this, nor can I think of a performance of any other Beethoven sonata where a similar decision is taken. What Fliter does goes contrary to the score too, so why does she do it? Is it because the following development section also begins with a return to the slow, opening music, albeit, as is normal, in another key? The result is undeniably arresting and effective, but I do rather think that Beethoven knew best, and even if we think he didn’t, we really ought to respect his opinion. After this we are treated to seamless legato in the slow movement, and a fair amount of skittish high spirits in the finale which, in spite of the fact that the main theme sticks stubbornly in the mind – and in spite of the work’s remarkable popularity – is not one of Beethoven’s most inspired. Is some of the passagework a little rushed in this movement? I think so, but it’s all to the good, and one wants to applaud loudly at the end, which was surely the composer’s intention.
The development section of the first movement of the D minor Sonata (nicknamed, though not by Beethoven, the Tempest) also begins with a return to the slow, rising arpeggio with which the movement started, in which case the exposition repeat beginning with this pensive yet dramatic gesture makes perfect sense. The difference is that in this case the composer instructs us to do it. The performance of the sonata is just as fine as that of the Pathétique, and it is one played out at a high level of tension. Garrick Ohlsson, in a performance on Bridge I reviewed recently, retains more of a classical atmosphere in the work, whilst relinquishing little or nothing in the way of expressiveness. I was particularly impressed by that performance, as I am by this one, in its own way. The curious, constantly revolving semiquavers of the finale create a feeling of disquiet in any successful performance, but Fliter goes further than most, and certainly further than Ohlsson or Hélène Grimaud on DG, in bringing out accents and fortissimi, to the point that the movement takes on a not inappropriate grim relentlessness. It is a more romantically inclined performance than the two comparison performances, with greater use of the sustaining pedal and with textures less analytical, more highly charged.
These characteristics become even more evident in the performance of the towering Appassionata. Fliter works very hard to bring out the conflict and contrast inherent in the first movement, just as she does in the first movement of Op. 31/2, but one is particularly struck by the power of her playing, positively thunderous when required, with the closing bars almost possessed. The slow movement is poised and tender, leading to another stupendous performance of the finale. The tension never lets up here, and the closing bars, from Beethoven’s Presto marking onwards, are extraordinarily vehement.
Collectors will have their own favourite readings of each of these sonatas, but none will be disappointed, I believe, by these highly impassioned, impulsive performances. This is Beethoven playing of a very high order.
Outstanding performances of three favourite minor-key Beethoven sonatas.