Notes and Editorial Reviews
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R E V I E W S:
Fazil Say is a 35-year-old, Turkish-born pianist and composer who has earned quite an international reputation in the last several years. He has recorded for this same label a disc of Mozart piano concertos that was well received by Fanfare’s Peter Rabinowitz.
Any pianist who prefaces his recording of Beethoven sonatas with the following paean to the composer has already won me over, even before I’ve heard a single note: “Drama, insanity, liberty, song, the voices of paradise, the singing of birds, the roll of thunder . . . one must hear all of them if one is to understand Beethoven. This is what I have striven with all
my heart to achieve. I hope you enjoy it.”
And enjoy it I did. Say’s playing of these familiar war-horses is striking, bold, insightful, exciting, and perhaps even inciting, so much so that there is little point in stating the obvious, which is that Say has chosen repertoire in which the competition is intense. Every movement of these sonatas, however, gives evidence that Say has thought deeply about this music and has come up with his own interpretive ideas that are, in many instances, unique and revelatory, and will certainly be controversial.
Take for example the last movement of the “Appassionata.” Say launches into it at a tempo faster than I would have thought it possible to play. Yet, his technique is so astonishing and clean that instead of the music sounding rushed or hectic, every note is produced with a crystalline clarity. Moreover, even at this breakneck speed, Say manages to find the phrase and point our ears to what he, and presumably Beethoven, want us to hear. At this tempo, crosscurrents in the rhythm and larger rhythmic patterns emerge in ways that provide a whole new perspective on the grand design. It’s like stepping back from a large canvas and being able to take in the totality of the work in a single glance.
Listen also to the way Say transforms the jazzy little figure in the first variation of the “Appassionata’s” second movement into an inebriated hiccup; or at 8:00 in the first movement of the “Waldstein” for those mad-as-a-hatter accents. The insanity of which Say speaks is never far from the surface, and often breaks it in these readings.
These performances are not simply exceptionally well played, technically polished renderings of Beethoven sonatas in mainstream interpretations; there is nothing mainstream about them. As already noted, Say finds something new, different, and unusual to tell us in all of them. As familiar as you may be with these works, I can promise that you’ve never heard them played this way before. Will they wear in the long run, or will the novelty wear off? I’m not sure. But for right now I can say that this is some of the most viscerally exciting Beethoven I have ever heard, and I intend to enjoy it as long as the thrill lasts. Naïve has also provided Say’s Steinway with a fabulous recording.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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