Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas, Volume 5: In the beginning ….
Sonata in E flat, WoO47/1 [9:42]
Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2 No. 1 [18:30]
Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2 No. 2 [23:44]
Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2 No. 3 [25:56]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, January & July 2010
DEUX-ELLES DXL1165 [77:52]

This is a gloriously recorded offering from one of the UK’s most under-rated pianists. Roscoe elects to place the three Op. 2 Sonatas in Volume 5 of his ongoing complete traversal of the “New Testament”. The result is a fabulously rewarding programme. The Sonata in E flat, WoO47/1 is one of the so-called “Electoral” Sonatas and, as Roscoe points out in the interview reproduced in the accompanying booklet, it is decidedly Haydnesque. Charming and beautifully played, what comes through is how carefully Roscoe has considered his pedalling; also there’s Haydnesque fire in the first movement. The bare textures of the central Andante come through with crystal cleanliness; while the pecking Rondo (vivace) theme offers great humour; yet at 1:35 there is a delicious lead-in to a fermata that reminds us that, handled well, this sonata is fully worthy of disc space. All credit to Roscoe for including this here.

More familiar territory, of course, for the Op. 2 Sonatas. The freshness of the E flat sonata bleeds into the F minor, Op. 2/1, yet here the cutting, glass-like edge to Roscoe’s sforzati leave us in no doubt as to the changed nature of Beethoven’s game plan. The young man’s anger is there just as surely as the expanded canvas on which he paints. The Adagio finds glorious upper register cantabile connecting with perfect flow; Roscoe takes us on a voyage only grounded by the slightly stumbling gait of the Menuetto. Maybe some of the voice-leading here is over done, but there is no doubting the breathless ferocity of the angry F minor finale.

The A major Sonata Op. 2/2 is fluent enough in its first movement; but compare it to, say, Rudolf Buchbinder’s most recent account and Roscoe is found wanting. There also appears to be a faint recorded pre-echo of the entrance at 1:14, or is it Roscoe lightly hitting a key in error? It is the Largo appassionato that acts as the fulcrum of this performance, its profundity alleviated by the playful Scherzo. The finale is properly Grazioso, as the initial, perfectly judged ascent attests; there’s some lovely counterpoint between treble and bass brought out by Roscoe that one does not normally hear.

Finally, the large-scale C major, Op. 2/3, here the most successful performance of the disc. Again, Roscoe nails the depth of the slow movement, but he finds spectacular power in the first movement; the close recording accentuates this. The scampering nature of the Scherzo is perfectly done: hardly surprisingly, as cleanliness of delivery is one of Roscoe’s trademarks. Accents buffer the listener with post-Haydn bite. There’s a sly smile to the finale.

Roscoe enters a massively crowded field, of course, but he can hold his head high. And the E flat Sonata acts as a real bonus.

Colin Clarke


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