Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas Vol. 3: The Final Trilogy
Sonata No. 24 in F sharp op.78 [10:66]
Sonata No. 30 in E op.109 [1859]
Sonata No. 31 in A flat op.110 [19:03]
Sonata No. 32 in C minor op.111 [26:24]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. 5-6 April 2009, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK
DEUX-ELLES DXL1163 [74:00]
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?
Christopher Howell
A very good disc but beware comparisons. 

Masterwork Index: Sonata 24 ~~ Sonatas 30-32