Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 12 in A?,
No. 13 in E?; No. 14 in c?,
No, 15 in D,
András Schiff (pn)
ECM 476 5875 (72:59)
With Volume IV, ECM reaches the approximate halfway point in releasing András Schiff’s Beethoven piano sonata performances recorded over a two-year period beginning in 2004. With this
latest installment, we come to the well-known “name” sonatas that, according to Schiff, bring Beethoven’s early period to a close. When Schiff is in top form, as he is here, the results are electrifying. As early as the Scherzo of the A? Sonata, we hear Schiff’s vigorous thrust and alert articulation that bring out all of Beethoven’s kinky off-the-beat accents and cross-rhythm currents. No tears are spilled in Schiff’s reading of the following movement that gives the “Funeral March” Sonata its name. Beethoven’s full title for this movement,
Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Eroe
, tells us that this is to be a dignified, stiff-upper-lipped burial of a heroic fallen soldier; and that is exactly how Schiff plays it.
Joined by a common opus number, the two 1801
quasi una fantasia
sonatas could not be more different. The first of them, in E?, contains one of those furtive, shadowy scherzos that flirt with barely disguised demons, only to stick its tongue out at them in the concluding Allegro vivace, one of Beethoven’s giddiest and zaniest movements. Schiff’s demons are sufficiently sinister, but it’s in the madcap finale that he really dons his Mad Hatter’s hat.
Schiff avoids the pitfall of allowing the “Moonlight’s” first movement to sink into somnolent stasis, taking it at a tempo that keeps it moving. As he points out in his note, the movement “must be played
, in two beats to the bar, and without dampers—that’s to say with the sustaining pedal.”
If there be one small niggle, it’s that in the concluding Presto agitato, which Schiff plays as fast and furiously as could be desired, many of the trills are slightly smudged, the same observation I made in reviewing Volume I (29:3), wherein I noted that “trills in particular tend to fall victim to untidiness and smudging.” The problem here is not as pronounced—Schiff seems to have gotten control of it as he progressed—but it’s still noticeable.
Finally, also from 1801, comes the last of Beethoven’s early-period sonatas, the so-called “Pastorale.” Here Schiff captures to perfection the arching lyricism of the first movement’s outgoing warmth and seeming artlessness.
Altogether, I would have to say this is the best volume yet in Schiff’s series. I am a bit irritated, though, by ECM’s decision to release these discs separately. As noted above, all of the sonatas were recorded between 2004 and 2006. Releasing them all in a specially priced boxed set—almost sure to come after everyone has bought the singles—would have been the more consumer friendly thing to do.
Among recent recordings, I still favor Craig Sheppard, Garrick Ohlsson, and what I have heard so far of Angela Hewitt. But with so many available recordings of these works, individually as well as in complete sets, a number of which are still underway, detailed comparison sampling is impractical in the limited space of a regular review. Perhaps what is needed is an in-depth survey, along the lines of Richard Kaplan’s comprehensive and fantastic Sibelius symphony survey in 30: 3. But given that many of these complete Beethoven sonata sets are not yet complete, such a survey would be premature.
So, for those collecting Schiff’s cycle, or for those wanting just these four sonatas, there is no need to hesitate. This one is a winner.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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