Beethoven: The Final Trilogy
I haven’t heard the previous two discs in Martin Roscoe’s complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle (reviewed June 2010 and August 2011). But on the strength of this one I shall certainly acquire them. It’s astonishing how many cycles are in progress at present, but I haven’t heard playing from any recent pianist that surpasses Roscoe’s. He is recorded exceptionally well and there is an instructive dialogue between him and his producer, Mike George, in the booklet.
The disc kicks off with one of Beethoven’s shortest sonatas, Op. 78 in the unusual key of F sharp major. It’s a relatively simple but subtle work, without a hint of anguish: on the contrary, it’s profound in its light-heartedness. The rest is taken up with the last three Sonatas, pieces which push the form to its farthest reaches. They challenge at every level, with their transcendental technical demands and incredibly abrupt changes of mood, and the listener has to be prepared for ranging over wildly varying spiritual territory. It is characteristic of Roscoe, as of all the supreme executants, that listening itself becomes a strenuous process, so that at the end of each piece, and a fortiori at the end of the disc, you feel exhausted in the most fulfilled way. Other pianists have played these Sonatas as finely as this – Artur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Sviatoslav Richter – but Roscoe made me feel that they are related to one another in ways that I have never realised before. An outstanding disc in every way.