Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 4 in E?; No. 19 in g; No. 20 in G; No. 21 in C,
Martin Roscoe (pn)
DEUX-ELLES 1162 (68:40)
The March of the Beethoven Sonatas continues apace. This disc, which is Volume 2 in a projected series of nine, will mark at least (to my count) 44 complete sets of the Beethoven sonatas (more if you include DVD versions and Emil Gilels’s 29 of 32), but there may be some that I’ve missed). What marks this set as interesting, one might say unique,
is that pianist Roscoe gives us the first complete recording using the new critical edition of the sonatas prepared by Professor Barry Cooper of Manchester University. For those unfamiliar with this edition, it brings the number up from 32 to 35 by including three sonatas without opus numbers, WoO 47 Nos. 1-3. These sonatas, written when Beethoven was only 12, are generally considered juvenilia, yet they were included in the complete edition of the sonatas published shortly after Beethoven’s death by Haslinger. The other difference is that Professor Cooper has spent roughly 17 years comparing manuscripts to different editions of the sonatas and thinks he has all the “bugs” ironed out, meaning the slight changes that different publishers put into the scores without Beethoven’s approval. Yet even Cooper admits that only a trained ear, one intimately familiar with every bar of all 32 formerly published sonatas, would be able to notice the differences, and even then they are slight—slight, but to him important. You can read a more complete discussion of Cooper’s work in a
New York Times
article available online at nytimes.com/2008/01/20/arts/music/20whit.html?pagewanted=all.
One thing I noticed, without referring to my Schirmer scores while listening, was that Cooper encourages all repeats in every movement. One of the most striking to me was in the first movement of the “Waldstein,” where Roscoe plays the entire opening exposition—longer than two minutes—right from the start again. My personal feeling is that many (but not all) such repeats were designed to help concertgoers become more familiar with the theme before developing it or veering off into contrasting themes. In other words, it was a form of “instant replay” because no one back then had any mechanical means of capturing and reproducing music other than sitting down and playing it. In our modern era with phonographs, CD players, mp3s, downloads, iPods, and droids, I personally feel that many such repeats should be left up to the discretion of the interpreter.
Regarding these specific performances, I was delighted by Roscoe’s playing of Nos. 4 and 21 (although the Cooper edition, having added three sonatas, encourages the use of opus numbers rather than sonata numbers), which had wonderful detail, drive, energy, and even some humor despite being at tempos a shade slower than I generally prefer. I was less happy with his performances of the two op. 49 sonatas, which I felt lacked detail and fell flat on the ear. I really had to strain to follow the thread of this music, and if you do that I think you lose the enjoyment of what makes Beethoven Beethoven. Nonetheless, when completed this will probably be one of those sets from which one may derive individual performances of value. Roscoe has obviously thought about these works and what they convey to him. I only wish that the earlier sonatas would have conveyed a bit more.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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