Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: Nos. 1–3
Beatrice Berrut (pn)
CENTAUR 3129 (72:40)
This is a mostly impressive debut recording by the Swiss pianist Beatrice Berrut, born in 1985. The First Sonata makes the strongest impression, partly because it’s the most inspired of Schumann’ sonatas, but also due to Berrut’s unflagging rhythmic control in the work’s finale. It’s a movement that can come across as sprawling and overly repetitive in performances that fail to maintain its dotted rhythms, but Berrut’s performance
brings coherence to its structure with the clarity and control of her playing.
If The Second Sonata doesn’t possess the First’s abundance and variety of musical ideas or formal experimentation, it is still an entirely successful work, just more compressed. The first chord of its opening movement needs to signal the urgent, passionate mood of what is to come, but Berrut’s attack is a little tentative. While her playing is fluent and energetic, she likes to give phrases distinct beginnings and endings, like sentences properly punctuated, and this takes away from the sweep of the first movement, with its mad dash to the end. Her phrasing in the outer movements of the Third Sonata also has this tendency and they come across as less impulsive than they might.
Another slight weakness, most evident in the Second Sonata’s slow movement, is Berrut’s occasional lack of a focused singing sound in the right hand. Her playing of slower melodies can sound too casual. It’s not only a matter of volume, but of projection and clear definition of the balance between melody and accompaniment. In the fourth movement’s lyrical second subject, she supplies the needed tone, and the result is emotionally satisfying.
The Third Sonata exists in three versions. In its three-movement (concerto) form, played here, the title “Sonata” is replaced by “Concert sans orchestra.” The first and third versions contain, respectively, five and four movements, with one or two added scherzos. Programming the three-movement version is what makes it possible to fit Schumann’s three piano sonatas on one CD.
I first became acquainted with the Third Sonata through Horowitz’s recording of the four-movement version. His disjointed but compelling performance exploits the most extreme possible contrasts between dynamics and textures and somehow gave me the impression that the point of the piece, and its title, was for the piano to be played in as orchestral a manner as possible.
Berrut takes a different, less colorful approach. She has the work’s considerable technical difficulties entirely under control and makes the music sound gratefully written, which it isn’t. She gives the outer movements a streamlined feeling and, with her structural elucidation, one notices that the level of the music isn’t quite up to the two other sonatas. The second movement, a somber set of variations based on a theme of Clara Schumann’s, sometimes performed as a separate piece, is an exception, and Berrut plays it as expressively as Horowitz.
The clear, flattering recorded sound is the best that I have heard from Centaur on a piano recording, and I recommended the disc mostly for the First Sonata, though the Second and Third are nimbly played and worth hearing. Classic recordings of the Second by Richter and Argerich capture more of the music’s intimacy and wildness.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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