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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas / Mark Swartzentruber

Beethoven / Swartzentruber
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Solo Records   Catalog #: 2   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark Swartzentruber
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 23, “Appassionata”; No. 25; No. 32 Mark Swartzentruber (pn) SOLO 2 (60:03)

Having tested Mark Swartzentruber in Scarlatti, and finding him good but somewhat lacking, I turned to his Beethoven. Well, really, these are good performances—well thought-out, intelligently paced and phrased—but quintessential Beethoven they are not. Even the highly lyrical John O’Conor understood Beethoven better than this. Only at a few Read more points does Swartzentruber’s “Appassionata” burn with anything resembling even an undercurrent of intensity, whereas O’Conor’s has an almost continuous smoldering in it. Note that “intensity” and “volume” are not interchangeable. Swartzentruber gets the dynamic contrasts right, especially in the last movement, yet they seem to be sent by cable and not actually delivered in person. Of course, I tend to prefer emotionally involved Beethoven as a rule anyway, and so I have Schnabel and Sheppard in my collection.

But, of course, this is my own highly subjective opinion. Others might differ. I once took conductor Samuel Friedmann’s recordings of Tchaikovsky symphonies (on Arte Nova) to task for being so bland as to have virtually no character at all, but when I sent the disc with the Symphony No. 4 to a composer acquaintance of mine, she waxed enthusiastic over his “revealing clearly the structure of the work.” As for me, I can clearly hear the structure of the Tchaikovsky Fourth in Rodzinski’s wonderful reading, and yes, it is even discernible to me in Svetlanov’s volcanic recording. If what I wanted from Beethoven’s sonatas was to have the structure clearly revealed, Swartzentruber’s my guy, but I am even more fond of such an outré reading of the “Appassionata” as Sviatoslav Richter’s unbelievably volcanic rendering on RCA Victor than of an underplayed version like this.

Moving away from op. 57, Swartzentruber’s performance of the op. 79 Sonata has a certain classical balance that I find refreshing—after all, not all of Beethoven’s sonatas call for Sturm und Drang. Yet even here I prefer O’Conor, not to mention Sheppard. Yes, I know, it’s unfair to keep comparing Swartzentruber to the very best interpreters, but when you record Beethoven sonatas, that’s what you’re opening yourself up to.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I like Swartzentruber’s op. 111 best of the three, if only because this is late-period, more cerebral Beethoven, where big emotions are not necessary (though they are sometimes welcome). Here, his highly intelligent layout of the sonata and his continuing sense of structure work exceptionally well, and I am very pleased with the results, which are quite comparable to what O’Conor achieved in this music. Only one caveat: The last movement does not float up and away into the ether, as it should. It just tinkles its way down that dusty trail into the sunset, like a cocktail pianist at midnight.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 23 in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark Swartzentruber (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1804-1805; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London 
Length: 24 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 25 in G major, Op. 79 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark Swartzentruber (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1809; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London 
Length: 9 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 32 in C minor, Op. 111 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Mark Swartzentruber (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1821-1822; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Henry Wood Hall, London 
Length: 26 Minutes 12 Secs. 

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