Piano Sonatas: No. 3 in C, Op. 2/3; No. 9 in E, Op. 14/1; No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111; 6 Bagatelles; 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor
Jan Bartoš (piano)
Supraphon SU 4252-2 128:25 mins (2 discs)
The Czech pianist Jan Bartoš prefaces this double-CD with some thoughts about its strategy. Pointing to the diverse character of Beethoven’s oeuvre, and to the way his ideas could take decades to germinate, Bartoš has chosen to make some unusual juxtapositions. He has a distinguished pedigree – the last student of Ivan Moravec, he has also been taught by Alfred Brendel – and his approach to the keyboard is quintessentially refined. Everything in this recording is outstanding, yet it also springs surprises: who would have thought that a performance of the Sonata in C major, Op. 2 No. 3, could have the listener more on the edge of their seat than a brilliantly-played Appassionata?
Under Bartoš’s warm, supple, and disciplined touch the first movement of that virtuosic, Haydn-influenced early sonata emerges in unhurried grandeur, and the Adagio unfurls with grace; there are no histrionics in the Scherzo or the concluding Allegro. The E major Sonata is sometimes dismissed as trivial, but the delicacy of Bartoš’s treatment reveals both its quartet-like textures and its feline subtlety. Bartoš may not extract the chiaroscuro magic from the 32 Variations on an Original Theme which Evgeny Kissin did in his Deutsche Grammophon release last year, but he amply justifies his claim that Beethoven treated this extraordinarily compressed work as a laboratory for future possibilities. Bartoš sees the Op. 126 Bagatelles as the bridge between the Ninth Symphony and the late quartets, and he allows each of their sound worlds to expand and find its true character. The Arietta of Op. 111 is here gorgeous beyond words: its serene beauty burns brightly, then folds itself in towards an ecstatic, trill-garlanded conclusion.