Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas Vol. III – Schiff (ECM New Series 1943)

 

Ludwig van Beethoven
The Piano Sonatas: Volume III

András Schiff piano
Recorded February 2005, Zürich Tonhalle

“Already in his early sonatas,” Schiff tells us, “Beethoven is a psychologist, not only as regards the organisation of the movements according to their inner logic, but also in the unity between the various movements.” Thus does the trenchant pianist bring an analytical edge to his third installment in the Beethoven cycle. The offerings here bristle with crude edges and a microscopic aesthetic.

Sonata No. 19 g minor op. 49/1 (1797?)
This sonata sets the tone for a disc that is markedly miniaturistic against the previous two installments of Schiff’s inspired renderings. The gestures are quick and painless, never lingering too long on the tongue before subsequent flavors take over.

Sonata No. 20 G major op. 49/2 (1795-6)
There is an overt delicacy to this sonata that is strangely invirogating in light of Volume II’s “Pathétique.” Op. 49 finds Beethoven in a more relaxed mode, though Schiff’s playing is infused with the same dedicated energy throughout. The final menuetto rocks us gently into the op. 14/1.

Sonata No. 9 E major op. 14/1 (1798)
While this sonata and its present company are relatively easy to play, they are not without their difficulties (though one would be hard pressed to distinguish them from the melismatic uniformity of Schiff’s effortless stylings). While this might not be one of the most memorable of sonatas overall, its lively Rondo is one of the highlights of this disc.

Sonata No. 10 G major op. 14/2 (?1799)
For all its brevity, this sonata is charmingly captivating. The opening Allegro ripples like a fluid stream caressing rocks rounded by centuries of erosion. The Andante plods along with an almost pompous assuredness, swaying its head from side to side as it prowls the streets in want of attention. The closing Scherzo is deceptively constructed, cloaking itself in the mood of a sporadic chase, a cat in search of the elusive thematic mouse until…not a pounce but a strange remorse over the killing of one’s object of entertainment.

Sonata No. 11 B flat major op. 22 (1800)
This might very well be Beethoven’s breakout sonata, as it marks his return to the four-movement structure that he so well made his own. With a sort of fractured bravado, it circles an axis of motifs like a bird whose confidence gives its victims that much more false security before diving in for a meal. The Adagio practically floats on its own ineffable air, wafted ever higher with each beautifully articulated trill. A compellingly woven Minuetto prepares us for a masterful Rondo as bidirectional runs flow into two succinct and conclusive chords.

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