WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat, Op. 26; Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat, Op. 27/1; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 (Moonlight); Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49/1
PERFORMER: Alfred Brendel (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 438 863-2 DDD
Alfred Brendel’s third recorded traversal of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas redefines absolutes within this cycle, long the benchmark of pianistic and cognitive achievement. Opp. 26 and 27 date from 1800-01; Beethoven ascribed the title ‘Sonata quasi una fantasia’ to each of the Op. 27 group, the second of which carries the apocryphal epithet, ‘The Moonlight’. Ludwig Rellstab’s fanciful contemporary musings on its poeticism apart, Op. 27/2 and its companion (which, like Op. 26, has not one movement in sonata form) were Beethoven’s earliest gestures toward unifying both sonata and fantasy principles.
Brendel’s readings are formidably articulate; the ‘Marcia funebre’ of the A flat work is accorded a grandeur and dignity which resound long in the memory, and while Liszt found ‘a flower between two abysses’ in the Allegretto of the ‘Moonlight’, Brendel illuminates the structural unity underpinning this most ubiquitous of Beethoven piano works. Paradox and contradiction emerge powerfully in Op. 27/1; in Brendel’s hands a work of challenging proportion and originality.
The slighter G minor sonata, Op. 49/1, is, despite its opus number, the earliest on this disc, dating from around 1797. Though lacking the innovative and experimental characteristics of the foregoing, it testifies to the intensity of Beethoven’s engagement with Mozart’s keyboard music at this time. Alfred Brendel’s revelatory performances bespeak lifelong communion with the Beethoven sonatas. This series continues to absorb and astonish; its eminence within the cultural canon of our age cannot be overstated. Michael Jameson