Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 3. Piano Sonatas: No. 32 in c; No. 14 in c?,
Fazil Say (pn); Gianandrea Noseda, cond; Frankfurt RSO
NAÏVE 5347 (73:15)
This is my first encounter with Fazil Say since his kamikaze raid on three other Beethoven sonatas—the “Tempest,” “Waldstein,” and “Appassionata”—going on 10 years ago now. At the time, I was simply flabbergasted by his velocity and ferocity, though I did wonder if his approach would wear well in the long run. When
I go back and listen to that CD now, I admit that I still find Say’s pyrotechnics very impressive, but some of the novelty and shock have worn off.
I requested Say’s latest release for review, wondering if the pianist had mellowed a bit in the intervening years. He hasn’t. With Gianandrea Noseda as his willing accomplice, Say gives one of the fastest and most aggressive readings of Beethoven’s C-Minor Piano Concerto I know. It isn’t just the precipitous tempo that contributes to the effect; Say strikes the keys with a martellato-like touch and adopts a barbed, angular approach to phrasing that wouldn’t be out of place in Bartók or Prokofiev. And Noseda shores up the assault from the orchestral flank with an onslaught of stabbing accents and hard-hitting timpani whacks that complete the smiting. This is Beethoven slapped and smacked upside the head.
Admittedly, Say and Noseda’s fast, furious, and fierce approach to the score is not altogether inappropriate, for the first movement in particular is surely filled with
Sturm und Drang
; and to no small degree, the performance advances many of the practices commonly associated with modern instrument ensembles emulating period instrument style. I’m thinking in particular of Yefim Bronfman with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, though they’re not quite this driven.
While I don’t reject this type of interpretive approach out of hand—in fact, I quite enjoy it as an exciting and pulse-quickening change of pace—this particular performance is spoiled for me by Say’s unfortunate and willful choice of an uncredited first-movement cadenza, which I assume is of his own devising. As cadenzas go, it’s not as wacky as some artist-written specimens have been; it pretty much adheres to the period and it does reference thematic content from the piece, but one has to ask why. Beethoven composed his own cadenza to this concerto, one that’s amply dramatic and virtuosic, and it provides a perfectly constructed bridge between the end of the recapitulation and the coda. Why is it necessary to second-guess the composer and advance your handiwork over his?
If you think the concerto is wound tight as a coil ready to spring, just listen to Say go it alone in the first movement of the op. 111 Sonata. There’s no other way to describe it: He pounds the hell out of it! This is a pianist whose take-no-prisoners approach shows no signs of moderating with age; he’s now 44.
Curiously, even inexplicably, given the above, Say’s reading of the “Moonlight” Sonata’s first movement is somewhat slower and more deliberate than has become recent custom to play it. But fear not, the old Say is back in the thundering
finale, vanquishing the movement with demonic speed and savagery.
Whatever else may be said about these performances, one can’t call them “safe.” Say is an adventurous artist committed to being unconventional and perhaps controversial. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this release as a first or only version of these works, but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone seeking to hear these works in ways that are different, daring, and ultimately thrilling.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Fazil Say (Piano)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
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