Beethoven: Bagatelles & Dances, Vol. 2

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Bagatelles & Dances, Vol. 2
PERFORMER: Jeno Jandó (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553798
Apart from the Fantasia, Op. 77, which Czerny thought conveyed a true impression of Beethoven-as-improviser, none of these assorted piano miniatures has even a toehold in the repertoire. Several date from Beethoven’s apprentice years; and I can’t see anyone in their right mind sitting down more than once to the schoolroom fugal exercises, or to the vacuous C major Rondo. Elsewhere, though, there is some agreeable, undemanding listening: in the various cheerful Écossaises and Contredanses (one of which uses the ‘Prometheus’ theme of Eroica fame), the glum little C minor Allegretto, which may have been discarded from the Op. 10/2 Sonata, or in the shapely minuet in E flat, revealing the sans culotte firebrand at his most docile and urbane. There’s also an entertaining, faintly Chopinesque Polonaise dating from 1814, its strut and swagger mingled with touches of introspective poetry.

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The omniverous Jandó, on target to become the most recorded pianist of all time, dispatches all these pieces with no-nonsense efficiency and muscular energy. But his playing is too often earthbound, short on flair, delicacy and whimsy. The 12 German Dances, for instance, cry out for greater elegance and rhythmic legerdemain, while the Fantasia needs the spontaneous abandon of a Schnabel or Serkin (both of whom recorded it). In fairness, though, Jandó is done no favours by the reverberant church acoustic, which lends a slight fuzz to the piano image. Richard Wigmore