COMPOSERS: Bach; Beethoven; Wienawski
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol. 3
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: No 15 in D, Op. 28 (Pastorale); No. 16 in G, Op. 31 No.1; No. 21 in C, Op. 53 (Waldstein)
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4115
In this third release in his complete series of the Sonatas, Jonathan Biss (pictured above) plays two that were ‘written primarily in 1801’, as he carefully puts it in his excellent and penetrating notes. Both of them show Beethoven at his most relaxed, not to say playful. The first, No. 15 in D, Op. 28, has the name Pastorale, though it’s not entirely clear to me why. Mostly serene, its odd outbursts are startling – especially a long passage in the development section of the first movement where nothing happens except the arhythmic repetition of a chord in a remote key.
No. 16 in G, Op. 31 No. 1, is stranger, in some way the oddest of all the Sonatas. The first movement consists largely of the pianist failing to get his hands quite together, though Biss makes his ‘failure’, some of the time, so slender that anyone listening fresh might not spot the dislocations. The second movement is parody, a plonking left hand accompanying a bel canto melody which involves ever more absurd flights of, as it were, coloratura. At slightly over ten minutes it seems to me to outstay its welcome, as parodies tend to.
Last comes the Waldstein, or as Biss prefers to call it, the ‘misteriosa’. We hear it so often that it is easy to overlook its strangeness, though Biss’s deeply meditated recording should ensure that we no longer do. His playing, in a golden age of Beethoven pianism, is always masterly and spontaneous-sounding.