Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 4
Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31 No. 1 [24:37]
Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 [24:28]
Sonata No. 18 in E flat, Op. 31 No. 3 [22:23]
Sonata No. 24 in F sharp, Op. 78 [9:32]
Sonata No. 25 in G, Op. 79 [9:05]
Sonata No. 26 in E flat, Op. 81a [16:23]
Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90 [12:13]
Paavali Jumppanen (piano)
rec. 2010-2012, Lentua Hall, Kuhmo Arts Centre, Kuhmo, Finland
ONDINE ODE1290-2D [71:32 + 47:20]

Paavali Jumppanen’s Beethoven sonata cycle got off to an eccentric, provocative early start, but has steadily grown more likable, and now reaches its highest point so far. Where Jumppanen’s performances of the earliest sonatas, notably Op. 2, featured lots of improvised ornamentation in the classical style, not all of it welcome, here he mostly dials back on the unusual quirks. What’s left is clean, polished Beethoven with a distinctively cool, classical feel: you can hear the echoes of Haydn clearly here, especially since this volume contains some of Beethoven’s wittiest music.

Jumppanen’s biggest quirk here is a predilection for long yet deftly-timed pauses, especially noticeable in the codas of the slow movement and finale in Op. 31 No. 1, and in the almost overlong gap before the finale of the ‘Tempest’ sonata. But for the most part these choices fit the music, and the ‘Tempest’ sonata, rather than being a Sturm und Drang tour-de-force, is carefully articulated and prettily pedaled. There’s no way the drama can be wholly absent, of course, not the way Beethoven wrote this music, so don’t fear that this approach means a wimpy performance.

Much of the short second disc focuses on the sonatas in which Beethoven looked back, in his wiser years, to the classicism and simplicity of his youth. And here Jumppanen especially excels, his playing clean, glittering, and free of artifice. He lingers over the slow, mysterious introduction of Op. 78, but the rest of this ten-minute piece is played with an innocent simplicity, and a hesitance ever to make a loud noise. The next sonata is chattier by nature, but he again takes a much-appreciated soft touch; the slow movement is gorgeous.

This style is certainly not for everybody; I can imagine listeners wishing for the greater passion and intensity of Gilels, or the humility of Backhaus. Paavali Jumppanen has a very particular flavor of Beethoven, cool and laid-back but extremely precise and carefully articulated. In the framework of this style, he is a great success.

The recording, from several sessions across 2010-12, is as good as can be desired, if a touch bright in the highest octaves. The last volume of Jumppanen’s cycle, featuring a few early sonatas along with the great final trilogy, is due for release this autumn. If the excellence of these two discs is any indication, it should be mandatory listening for Beethoven lovers.

Brian Reinhart

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