Though dedicated in the main to “The Final Trilogy”
this is actually the third volume in a cycle that will eventually
cover nine CDs.
Everything has to have an agenda these days and this is proclaimed
the “First complete recording of Barry Cooper’s
new edition, published by ABRSM”. It would have been nice
to know more about what that actually entails. Undoubtedly,
the Associated Board’s old Tovey-Craxton edition, stalwart
in its day, no longer matched the musicological criteria that
modern musical conservatoires might be expected to uphold. Despite
the attractions of Tovey’s all-guns-blazing introductions,
it needed replacing. On the other hand, those of us whose business
is not with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
had long ago jettisoned those handsome red volumes in favour
of one of the several Urtext editions issued in the latter half
of the 20th century. So we might like to know if
Cooper has unearthed anything not already contained in these.
Following this record with the Universal Edition, edited by
Schenker and Ratz, I was struck by a curious variant to the
theme of the third movement of op.109. I wonder how convinced
Roscoe himself is by it, since on the repeat he plays the extra
note so lightly I thought at first it wasn’t there at
all. For the rest, I noticed a “forte” marking brought
forwards half a bar in op. 78 and a chord tied in the UE but
struck again by Roscoe. And that was all. The booklet contains
the transcript of a sometimes revealing conversation between
Roscoe and the producer Mike George. It doesn’t touch
upon textual issues.
Roscoe has been playing these sonatas for some forty years and
he knows his way around them. Apparently comfortable with Beethoven’s
sometimes odd technical demands, he produces a consistently
full, rounded sound, excellently reproduced in the famous Potton
Hall acoustic. Tempi seem to arise from the music, rather than
being imposed upon it from without. The worst that can be said
of Roscoe is that he sometimes indulges in a touch of left-hand-before-right
or split chords - the principal theme of op.78, especially in
the repeats, sounds a little schmaltzy to my ears. But I realize
some people like this habit much more than I do and it is not
taken to excess. It struck me by the end of op.110 that he had
not produced an ugly note, but it also struck me that this may
not be an ideal thing in Beethoven. Was there not a veneer of
Mendelssohnian cosiness upon it all?
However, the extreme world of op.111 draws somewhat more from
him. He concludes the booklet conversation by saying “After
all the time I’ve known and played this work, it never
fails to astonish me with its profound message”, and I
think we can hear this in his playing as well as his words.
A very good disc, then. But what about comparisons? I could
make hundreds or none and I almost wish I’d made none.
Instead, I remembered I had a live version of op.109 from Annie
Fischer awaiting review (ICAC 5062) so decided to sample that.
It was cruel. In fairness I should say I don’t recollect
ever having heard Annie Fischer in quite such transcendently
inspired form, and in the studio she was notoriously unhappy.
But in this case I can only say there’s not a bar, not
a paragraph that doesn’t show the difference between playing
the notes and playing the music. Between playing very well and
living on the brink, whether in vehemence or in repose.
Well, as I said earlier, op.111 does seem to inspire Roscoe
to more and it remains, up to a point, a very good disc. Would
it have been better to record Roscoe live, I wonder?
Masterwork Index: Sonata
24 ~~ Sonatas