Beethoven: Piano Sonata in G, Op. 31/1; Piano Sonata in D minor, Op. 31/2 (Tempest); Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 31/3

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Sonata in G, Op. 31/1; Piano Sonata in D minor, Op. 31/2 (Tempest); Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 31/3
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9842
It is easy to forget how humorous a composer Beethoven was. The opening movement of the first sonata in this set could almost be called frivolous if it weren’t for the tension and energy of its development. Lortie remains inscrutable, and plays the middle movement almost entirely in strict time. By the end of the easygoing rondo finale the impression is of cool detachment, the humour not so much understated as ignored.

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But he is most disappointing in the second sonata, popularly known as the Tempest because Beethoven parried a question about its meaning by mentioning Shakespeare’s play. Lortie banishes all sense of mystery here, and the agitated sections are staid. Nor does he have much to say about the central Adagio, the gravest movement in Op. 31 altogether. He begins the lovely final Allegretto beautifully, only to stick over detail later on. Whatever prompted him to be so pernickety?

But, in a way, the best-played sonata is the last, which is crisp throughout, with a carefree, scampering finale. And yet there is still a coolness, even shallowness, that makes for rather boring listening. Surely it is possible to respect the music’s Classical pedigree while suggesting more weight of experience behind it, as both Stephen Kovacevich and Alfred Brendel show in their recordings of the Op. 31 sonatas – Brendel has a particular gift for dry humour.

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As usual, the Chandos sound is quite distant, yet bright and clear. Adrian Jack