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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C minor, Op. 4 (1828) [22:53]
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 (1837-39) [25:34]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58 (1844) [28:28]
Joseph Moog (piano)
rec. 5-8 January 2016, SWR Studio, Kaiserlautern, Germany
ONYX 4152 [77:10]

Since 2012, an annual release from Onyx by the young German pianist Joseph Moog has become an anticipated event. I missed the first three when my colleague Brian Reinhart did the honours (Rachmaninov ~ Scarlatti ~ Tchaikovsky), but last year I had the pleasure of reviewing the pianist’s recording of the Moszkowski and Grieg Piano Concertos (review). This year he turns his attention to Chopin’s three Piano Sonatas; yes, all three, not just the final two, and with repeats to boot. Apparently next year it will be the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 and Strauss Burleske, again with the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern conducted by Nicholas Milton.

The First Piano Sonata was written when the composer was seventeen and still a student at the Warsaw Conservatoire. It was turned down by Haslinger of Vienna when first submitted for publication in 1828. In 1841, once Chopin's fortunes changed, Haslinger expressed a desire to publish it. He was flatly turned down, and the work didn’t appear in print until 1851, two years after the composer’s death. Unlike its two successors the Sonata has never found much favour with the public, and maybe this explains why it appears only infrequently on CD. I’m pleased that Moog has decided to include it. Constructed in the classically-oriented four-movement mould, I find it quite derivative, yet the 5/4 time signature of the third movement Larghetto must have raised a few eyebrows at the time. The sprightly finale seems to be its saving grace.

Although sketches for the Funeral March were written down in 1837, the Piano Sonata No. 2 was only completed in 1839 in Nohant, near Châteauroux, in France. Its enduring popularity has won it a prominent place in the repertoire of many pianists. Five years later came the Third Sonata, penned in the summer of 1844 when the composer was 34, and dedicated to Countess Emilie de Perthuis. Again Chopin was resident at Nohant, the summer estate in central France which he inhabited with the novelist George Sand.

Moog’s refreshing interpretations are informed by musical intelligence and an overall sense of structure and architecture. He eschews heart-on-sleeve over-sentimentality in the more lyrical sections, yet never sounds cold and detached. Rubato is tastefully applied, and the pianist’s natural expression conveys a maturity of vision and a wealth of poetic insight. Judicious and sensitive pedalling invests the piano sound with a range of tonal colour. I don’t think I’ve heard such tantalizing vigour and energy in the Doppio movimento of the opening movement of Op. 35 as here, and this rhythmic dazzle spills over into the Scherzo. The central section of the Funeral March of Op. 35 can sound excessively twee in some hands - not here. Moog delicately shapes and projects the melody, always keeping it within the bounds of good taste. Fleet, gossamer finger-work gives the Scherzo of Op. 58 a similar thrilling and breathtaking profile. The rapid scale passages in the Finale don’t sound rushed and frenetic but impress with their clarity and sparkle. The glorious second subject theme of the first movement, surely one of Chopin’s most inspired creations, is instinctively contoured and eloquently projected.

This well-engineered recording benefits from a warm, sympathetic acoustic and well-voiced piano. Moog’s refined, aristocratic pianism and flawless technique stands comparison with Maurizio Pollini’s recording of Nos. 2 and 3, which has long been my favourite version.

Stephen Greenbank



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