Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 12 in A?,
No. 13 in E?; No. 14 in c?,
No. 15 n D,
Gerhard Oppitz (pn)
HÄNSSLER 98204 (76:55)
Having been less than bowled over by Gerhard Oppitz’s first volume in a new Beethoven cycle (which I did not review, but Mortimer H. Frank did in 29:5), I sat out the next two installments.
Volume IV has now come my way for review and I have to say that either Oppitz has improved dramatically, or, more likely, my earlier impression was off the mark.
It isn’t that I ever questioned Oppitz’s technical skill or intellectual command to play these scores, which he projects with absolute control and massive tone. Rather, it seemed at the time that Oppitz’s previous readings were rather literal and pedestrian, that they failed to project the imaginativeness of Beethoven’s fantasy. With the gathering of sonatas we have on this disc, it almost seems as if Oppitz’s imagination has gone into overdrive and that fantasy rules.
It may well be that all of the sonatas chosen for this program just happen to be “fantasy” works, by which I mean that each of them in its own way engages in a variety of formal oddities and musical high jinks. The two opus 27 sonatas, the second of which is of course the famous “Moonlight,” both bear the designation “quasi una fantasia.” And while the fantasy of the “Moonlight” is found in its extraordinary and unprecedented dream-state first movement, its alter-ego twin, No. 13, contains both some of Beethoven’s most chilling and wackiest moments. For chilling, try the scherzo (Allegro molto e vivace); and for wacky, listen to the unhinged finale (Allegro vivace/Presto). The A? Sonata paves new ground too, playing with the formal arrangement of movements and with their internal structure in ways that anticipate the late sonatas. It begins with a movement in variations form; its third movement is a funeral march that pre-echoes Chopin’s well-known piece; and its last movement also hints at Chopin’s “wind on the grave” that follows the burial. In terms of structure, the “Pastoral” Sonata may adhere most closely to the letter of the law, but it, too, radiates a new and different spirit, a lyricism suggestive of an early Schubert fantasy.
Each of these works seems to trigger a response from Oppitz that fits the fantasy of the music to perfection—whether it be the deathly night ride of the aforementioned E?-Major Sonata’s scherzo or the zany antics of its last movement, the mock-serious march in the scherzo of the “Pastoral,” the chattering humor of the A?-Major Sonata’s last movement, the thundering gallop of the last movement or the trance-like stillness of the first movement of the “Moonlight.”
Not having heard Volumes II or III in Oppitz’s traversal of the sonatas, I cannot tell you how he fared in those installments. Of this one I can say that even in the face of formidable competition from so many pianists past and present, Oppitz deserves your attention. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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