Beethoven: Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Opp. 7 & 78 & Op. 27, No. 2; Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)


One impressive Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle seems to follow another these days with great regularity, and Jonathan Biss’s seems destined to rank highly among them. His inlay notes are fluent, eloquent and forceful: ‘When we talk about the Beethoven Sonatas we talk about Everything,’ he writes, and his playing sets out to demonstrate that. He seems eager to cast doubt over the usual division of Beethoven’s creative life, and succeeds in doing so on this disc. He shows how the early Sonata No. 4 in E flat, Op. 7 – an aspiring work, longer than any previous sonata by anyone – surpasses the limits of late 18th-century expressiveness in its slow movement.

About the Moonlight, he rightly shows – in words and performance – how the extraordinary thing about the first movement is its atmosphere not its structure; and he deals with the last movement as if it were a dervish. Than comes a surprise: the Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77 from 1809, almost ten minutes of Beethoven’s improvisation, which proves to be very tiresome. It is a jumble of uninteresting ideas, the only memorable one being a rapid descending scalic figure that launches the piece.

Last on this extremely desirable disc is the small F sharp Sonata Op. 78. A masterpiece of humour and geniality, it shows Beethoven at his most relaxed. So infectious is Biss’s love for these works, so enviable his technique, that however many versions of them you have, you need to add this one.


Michael Tanner