Beethoven: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); Piano Sonata in G, Op. 79; Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Solo
WORKS: Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); Piano Sonata in G, Op. 79; Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Mark Swartzentruber (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SLR 2 (distr. 020 7272 7911; www.solorecords.com)
It’s almost depressing how many very superior pianists there are around at the moment. So many who deserve so much – but in an already overcrowded marketplace that can’t conceivably accommodate them all. Mark Swartzentruber is a very fine pianist indeed, and a musician of conspicuous intelligence and integrity. Indeed his classically honed but never inhibited account of the Appassionata is one of the best I’ve heard, though it lacks the high-voltage intensity of, say, Pletnev on Virgin. Musically, there isn’t a note out of place – not a phrase misjudged, nor a tempo misconceived. The titanic power of Beethoven’s imagination is conveyed without recourse to mannerism or exaggeration of any kind, and the work’s astonishing structural integrity, particularly in the first movement, is unfolded with masterly control. Moving to more subjective matters, some will undoubtedly feel that the element of tragic intensity is understated, though the drama is never in doubt. Pletnev, for instance, plays with a more wide-ranging and spikily deployed dynamic range, with sharper juxtapositions of extreme contrasts, and accents of greater violence, but Swartzentruber’s more symphonic grandeur is deeply impressive. Op. 111, however, disappoints. For all its unfailing beauty and polish, I miss the transcendental, if sometimes rough-hewn spirituality of Serkin on Sony – mainly through too ‘busy’ a rhythmic foreground (too many beats, too many accents, too much sound, too many barlines). The main drawback, for my tastes, is an excessively metrical cast which mitigates against the ethereal, other-worldly weightlessness of the second movement’s spiritual apotheosis. Jeremy Siepmann

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