Master & Pupil

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Liszt
ALBUM TITLE: Master & Pupil
WORKS: Beethoven: Bagatelles, Op. 126; Piano Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109; Czerny: Variations on a Theme by Rode; Marcia funebre sulla morte di Luigi van Beethoven; Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor
PERFORMER: Melvyn Tan (piano)


There’s a vogue at present for CDs programmed on biographical principles: thus we get Beethoven followed by his pupil Czerny followed by his pupil Liszt, despite the fact that the music representing them here has no obvious links. Moreover, the liner-note seeks to perpetuate the myth about the public kiss which the deaf Beethoven allegedly planted on the forehead of 11-year-old Liszt in the Redoutensaal, when there’s no hard evidence that Beethoven was even there. On the other hand, it’s often forgotten how crucial Czerny’s role was in tutoring the young Liszt free of charge, and how grateful Liszt remained for this in later life.

The main interest of this disc lies in the Czerny pieces. Very few of his thousand-plus piano works are played today, and the Rode variations do indeed reflect a felicitous talent, with their increasingly virtuoso embroidery on the theme. His funeral march recalls the soundworld of the funeral march in Beethoven’s Op. 26 Sonata, but lacks that work’s divine afflatus.

Tan’s account of Beethoven’s Sonata in E major is rather pedestrian – short on poetry and fantasy – but he plays the late Bagatelles with the right sort of empathy, honouring both their folk-song sweetness and their anarchic playfulness. And although Liszt is not normally his thing, he makes something majestic out of the B minor Sonata. Apart from one moment when the virtuoso passagework goes off-piste, he presents an admirably clean and elegant account of this tumultuous work.


Michael Church