Beethoven; Schubert

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven; Schubert
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31/1; Variations and Fugue in E flat, Op. 35 (Eroica Variations); Schubert: 16 German Dances from D783; Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer)
PERFORMER: Aaron Pilsan (piano)


The 20-year-old Austrian pianist Aaron Pilsan studies with Lars Vogt and lists Alfred Brendel and András Schiff among his mentors, so expectations of this CD have been high. He launches into the first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 31 No. 1 with a big, bright, authoritative sound, but already in the fifth bar he’s missing a trick, failing to give the syncopations their full, exuberant force. The second theme is appropriately playful, but would have been more so if played a bit slower. He seems to want to get this movement over, rather than savouring its tangy effects. The same applies to the Adagio – one of Beethoven’s most majestic middle movements – which is brisk rather than profound, and lacks weight and solidity. With the Rondo, on the other hand, we’re wading through treacle: the requisite contrast between its joyful brightness and the preceding movement’s grave seriousness simply isn’t there.

Pilsan’s playing of the Eroica Variations is efficient, but he fails to communicate the organic unity of this rebarbatively episodic work, and one misses that essential whiff of gunpowder. Playing the notes is not the challenge here: the poetry is the thing, and it can take a lifetime to master.

Luckily Pilsan has no such problems with Schubert, whose German Dances he dispatches with gaiety and grace, each one nicely characterised. His version of the Wanderer Fantasy is less rugged and more mellifluous than most, which is no bad thing: the lyrical middle section is bewitching, and the conclusion generates real excitement.


Michael Church