Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Op. 31; Sonata in D, WoO 47
Martin Roscoe (piano)
Deux-Elles DXL 1167 84 mins
Martin Roscoe’s voyage through Beethoven’s piano works reaches the fruits of 1802, which, as Roscoe observes, saw the composer in a very dark place. This was the year of Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament: it’s astonishing that at the same time he could produce music of such spirit, energy and humour as the Op. 31 Sonatas. Roscoe also throws in one of the sonatas Beethoven wrote aged 12, proof that even at that early age his inventiveness in the variation form was inexhaustible.
Of the Op. 31 batch, Roscoe deals adroitly with the first sonata, in the Allegro vivace catching the right balance between daintiness and mock-clumsiness and giving it a strongly propulsive drive. The experiments with texture in the following Adagio grazioso – even its title suggests self-contradiction – are brought out in high relief, but the concluding Rondo falls flat, Roscoe’s sluggish tempo draining all Beethoven’s intended fun away. The Tempest Sonata starts well, with its Allegro smooth, rapid, and menacing, but the Adagio, which should be mysterious and even oracular, emerges in routine conversational mode; the Allegretto comes with a hard tone which only becomes nuanced in the movement’s later stages. But with the wacky Op. 31 No. 3 Roscoe comes up trumps, finding an ideal flexibility for its succession of surprises; the Menuetto is uneasy and tentative until its graceful resolution, and the closing Presto – in effect a tarantella – is a breeze.