Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 [31:57]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 [24:44]
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 [16:38]
Fazil Say (piano)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. February/March 2013, Alte Oper Frankfurt (concerto) October 2013, Zorlu Center, Istanbul (sonatas)
NAÏVE RECORDS V5347 [73:20]

Fazil Say’s new Beethoven album is vintage Fazil Say. That is to say, every performance on it is weird, head-scratching, fascinating and utterly unlike anything else. The clearest success is the concerto: Gianandrea Noseda leads the Frankfurt Radio Symphony in an impressively committed accompaniment, with hard-stick timpani, an excellent clarinet soloist and vigorous tempos that shake the dust off the piece. Then Say charges in with his bag of idiosyncratic tricks, mostly successfully. He also — I think; my download copy didn’t say — composes his own cadenzas and fiddles a bit with non-cadenza solos. The first-movement cadenza is the highlight of the CD. There’s an odd, abortive fugue, but also unlikely and brilliant presentations of the concerto’s themes as if they had been written by Chopin or Busoni, and a passage that sounds like an antique music box. In the finale, Say’s cadenza consciously quotes the finale of Beethoven’s First Symphony.
Then we get two sonatas given the full Say treatment. The famous “Moonlight” adagio has some agonizing left-hand playing, because it’s hard to maintain a natural flow when your performance stretches out to 7:33. At least that’s counterbalanced by dazzling precision at every point in a rip-roaring finale, and surprising tenderness in the tiny allegretto.
The final sonata, Op. 111, is treated to dizzying leaps between dynamic levels, not all of them marked by the composer. When Fazil Say wants to play a chord louder or softer, he doesn’t ask any composer’s permission. Oh, and the dynamic blips do not occur when you would necessarily expect them. In the arietta, there are major problems, the only objectively bad things on the disc. First, Say shoehorns in an anticlimactic pause before the “boogie variation,” during which all hell breaks loose. Then, near the end, the right-hand trills are brutally bad. You can hear him, at least four or five times, completely give up, then try to play them again, then give up again. To add to the farce, he alters the final chord to include a low C.
All the pieces are closely recorded, and that’s fine, but the concerto is a little too cramped. In the finale I recall thinking, “what a lovely clarinet solo,” only for the clarinet to disappear into the orchestral accompaniment. Oh, and be warned that Fazil Say’s usual grunting, humming and body-slamming-on-bench are omnipresent.
The above may all sound unappetizing to you. If so, then you’ve been warned but there is an undeniable thrill to Fazil Say’s playing. The same goes for the way that he throws convention out the window and does whatever he wants. I know a few Beethoven aficionados who enjoy him the way a cultured person enjoys the occasional trip to Las Vegas. Let go of your inhibitions, enjoy the hedonistic thrill ride and then go back to something proper and polite.
Brian Reinhart

Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 3 ~~ Piano sonata 14 ~~ Piano sonata 32

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