Beethoven: Bagatelles Opp. 33, 119, 126 & WoO 52 & 56

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Bagatelles Opp. 33, 119, 126 & WoO 52 & 56
PERFORMER: John Lill (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9201 DDD
The phrase ‘a mere bagatelle’ is ill-applied to the three sets of piano pieces Beethoven modestly called trifles. They are short, certainly, the shortest being a mere 12 seconds, but there is no mistaking a characteristic emotional strength and forthrightness. Some of the easier ones will be instantly recognised by amateur pianists as the mainstay of popular anthologies.

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That John Lill should tackle all 26 bagatelles on one disc is rather daunting. Like all good trifles, these are best taken in moderation. Juhani Lagerspetz’s choice of the Op. 126 set as a filler after the Hammerklavier is thus more appealing in simple programming terms. His treatment of the bagatelles, which he takes markedly slower than Lill, is introspective and sensitive. It is the best part of the disc, for his Hammerklavier is volatile, splashy, and lacking in poetry.

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Lill’s bagatelles are glittery, fast, and executed with the precision you would expect of so distinguished an interpreter of Beethoven. But his playing is seriously undermined by a recording perspective that allows the reverberation of Snape Maltings to hang stodgily over every chord like a grey mist. One senses that the engineers were aware of this because the microphones have been moved in too close to the piano, so we also pick up spurious noises that muddy the sound in a way that is totally uncharacteristic of Chandos. This last criticism applies equally to Lagerspetz, which makes neither disc particularly attractive. Christopher Lambton