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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Complete Piano Sonatas
Stewart Goodyear (piano)
rec. 2010-2012, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto MARQUIS MAR513 [10 CDs: 593:30]
This is my first encounter with the pianist Stewart Goodyear. He was schooled at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and later undertook studies at Curtis and Juilliard. He's also made a name for himself as a composer and has, on occasion, performed all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas in a single day, a mammoth undertaking by any standards. In fact, Beethoven has been central to his repertoire. In the accompanying notes he says that the sonatas "......are what compelled me to become a pianist, and I knew that my first solo recordings must start with all of them". He goes on to remark that he sees them as ".......a retrospective of Beethoven's art and his life". This 10 CD set, recorded between 2010-2012, is a re-release by the Marquis label, having been originally issued in September 2012.
First hearings can be deceptive. When I approached the set for the first time, I randomly picked out some sonatas just to get a feel of things. I was surprised how brisk some of the tempi were. The finale of the 'Moonlight' is one example, as is the Scherzo of the 'Pastorale'. Very rarely, however, did I find this approach problematic, and I can cite only two examples out of the whole set where this was the case. The finale of Op 26, taken at breakneck speed, sounds frenetic, and the forward drive of the Menuetto of Op. 31, No. 3 robs it of its elegance and charm. I'm not sure how aligned Goodyear's tempi are to Beethoven's metronome markings, but aside from the two misjudged examples, I didn’t get the impression of insistence.
On the evidence, it's obvious to me that Goodyear has this music under is skin, having lived with it for many years. He has an intellectual grasp of the structure and architecture of the individual works, and is able to communicate this through the cumulative sweep of his performances; Op. 101 is a perfect example, where he achieves great freedom and fantasy. He has a dazzling technique, which appears to be attained with consummate ease. The opening movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’ is dispatched with authority and brilliance. In the finale of the ‘Appassionata’, clarity of finger work and articulation can only be admired. Another compelling quality is his rhythmic precision; sample the Allegro con brios which open Op. 2, No. 3 and Op. 22 and you’ll see what I mean.
The slow movements are particularly successful. Goodyear contours the lines with subtly, eloquence and nuance. The expressive breadth of the Adagio of Op. 2, No. 3 and the Largo e mesto of Op. 10 No. 3 make the point. In the lengthy slow movement of the ‘Hammerklavier’, the music is never allowed to sag, rather it unfolds with a logical sense of inevitability and direction. Perhaps this is as good a place as any to mention dynamics. Goodyear adheres faithfully to Beethoven's markings.
The last three sonatas have always held a special place for me in the cycle, and Goodyear certainly doesn't disappoint. In Op. 109, my favorite of the whole thirty-two, the pacing is agreeable and the variations are handled well. The dark, brooding mood of Op. 110's Adagio hits the target perfectly. In Op. 111, the final movement is sublime, with the cumulative effects of each subsequent variation becoming more rhythmically complex, providing tension and drama as the movement progresses. At the end, peace, tranquillity and resignation rein.
My only quibble, and it is only a minor one, but worth mentioning, involves the packaging. The ten CDs are housed in a flimsy soft card case which is open at one end. I’m not sure why they economised in this way; surprising for such a high quality product.
As an avid collector of Beethoven Piano Sonata cycles, I do have my favorites. Pollini, Brendel (digital cycle 1990s), Yves Nat, Claude Frank and more recently Michael Korstick are a few that immediately spring to mind. Stewart Goodyear's cycle I will happily add to this distinguished pantheon, and I’m immensely grateful to Marquis for making it available again. It’s beautifully recorded in the warm, sympathetic acoustic of the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. The pianist has provided his own exceptionally fine and well-written annotations - they're an added bonus. He closes by saying 'The road to Elysium was indeed rocky' but, for anyone setting off on the journey for the first time, his refreshing and invigorating cycle is, in my opinion, a perfect place to start.
Complete contents: CD 1 [64:26]
Sonata No. 1, in F minor, Op. 2 No. 1 (1795)
Sonata No. 2, in A, Op. 2 No. 2 (1795)
Sonata No. 3, in C, Op. 2 No. 3 (1795)
CD 2 [55:17]
Sonata No. 5, in C minor, Op. 10 No. 1 (1796/98)
Sonata No. 7, in D, Op. 10 No. 3 (1796/98)
CD 3 [59:56]
Sonata No. 4, in E flat, Op. 7 (1796/97)
Sonata No. 9, in E, Op. 14 No. 1 (1798/99)
Sonata No. 8, in C minor, Op. 13, (‘Pathétique’) (1798/99)
CD 4 [57:06]
Sonata No. 10, in G, Op. 14 No. 2 (1798/99)
Sonata No. 11, in B flat, Op. 22 (1799/1800)
Sonata No. 12, in A flat, Op. 26 (1800/1801)
CD 5 [51:47]
Sonata No. 13 in E-fl at major, Op. 27 No. 1
“Quasi una fantasia” (1800/1801)
Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No 2 “Moonlight” (1801/1802)
Sonata No. 15 in D major, Op. 28 “Pastorale” (1801)
CD 6 [64:41]
Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31 No. 1 (1801/1802)
Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest” (1801/1802)
Sonata No. 18 in in E-fl at major, Op. 31, No. 3 (1802)
CD 7 [57:42]
Sonata No. 21, in C, Op. 53 (‘Waldstein’) (1803/4)
Sonata No. 22, in F, Op. 54 (1804)
Sonata No. 23, in F minor, Op. 57 (‘Appassionata’) (1804/5)
CD 8 [63:00]
Sonata No. 19, in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1 (1795/8)
Sonata No. 20, in G, Op. 49 No. 2 (1795/6)
Sonata No. 24, in F sharp, Op. 78 (1809)
Sonata No. 25, in G, Op. 79 (1809)
Sonata No. 26, in E flat, Op. 81a (Les adieux) (1809-10)
Sonata No. 27, in E minor, Op. 90 (1814)
CD 9 [57:11]
Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101 (1816)
Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier" (1817/1818)
CD 10 [62:24]
Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 (1820)
Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op.110 (1820)
Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1821/1822)