Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: Nos. 15–25, 28
François-Frédéric Guy (pn)
ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES 304 (3 CDs: 208:37)
François-Frédéric Guy is not letting any moss grow under his Steinway Model D. It was only in
35:5 that I reviewed what I correctly assumed to be the first volume in a new cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, and here, less than six months later, is a second three-disc set. Since these live recordings
emanate from the same Arsenal de Metz venue as the previous volume, I’m guessing that the entire cycle was captured in concert performances in the winter of 2010 and the spring of 2011 and the rest simply awaits release by Zig-Zag Territoires. At a rate of three CDs per volume and 11 or 12 sonatas each—we’re now up to a count of 23—one more volume should do it, since there are only nine more sonatas to go.
Guy really impressed me in 35:5 with his spontaneity and sense of whimsy, and his seeming ability to make each sonata sound like a living, breathing organism that was in a state of becoming whole as it unfolded. I even went so far as to say that when Guy’s cycle is complete, it will be the one to have.
This second installment has, if anything only reinforced those feelings. This volume contains three of Beethoven’s most popular sonatas, the “Tempest,” “Waldstein,” and “Appassionata,” to all three of which Guy brings his own special insights. For me, one of Beethoven’s loftier moments comes in the first few measures of the “Waldstein’s” last movement, as that exalted theme, vacillating between major and minor, steals in quietly and tentatively. Guy’s playing of it takes on an ethereal quality that words simply cannot communicate.
If I had to describe Guy’s overall approach, I’d say he’s a lyricist in the best sense of the word. By this, I mean that he goes for the long line, taking phrases in breaths that correspond to a singer’s cantilena. To the extent possible, Guy overcomes the piano’s inherent inability to produce a true legato the way the human voice or a string or wind instrument can—connecting one note to the next without a space in between, or without the blurring effect of the sustaining pedal, and with no change in amplitude.
Some may find Guy’s way with the “Tempest” and “Appassionata” sonatas a bit on the tame side compared to the driven, suicide-mission playing of Fazil Say, but an inner glow radiates from Guy’s readings that I find ultimately more compelling and expositive of an ecstatic quality in these works that’s often overshadowed by their
Sturm und Drang
As with the last volume, by the way, applause is included, not after every sonata, thankfully, but at the end of each disc, which strikes me as very strange, unless Guy played the sonatas included on each CD without any pauses in between, as if they were one work. I wish the recording engineers had eliminated the applause altogether. That’s my only complaint, and it goes to the recording, not to Guy’s performances.
I conclude by repeating what I said in my prior review. If you’re shopping for a new cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, Guy’s is it, and, as far as I’m concerned, it will be for some time to come.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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