Paavali Jumppanen performs Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and other solo piano works

These two new CDs are of relatively early works and I found them an enormous nourishment of the spirit. 

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COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 9-15, 19 & 20
PERFORMER: Paavali Jumppanen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Ondine ODE 1280-2D

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Yet another Beethoven piano sonata cycle in progress, this from the 40-ish Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen, who has a lot to say about his approach to the sonatas in his highly interesting blog. Two volumes have already been issued, the first including the terrifying Hammerklavier, which must indicate some kind of declaration. These two new CDs are of relatively early works and I found them an enormous nourishment of the spirit. Jumppanen is fully aware of their innovative qualities, but plays them, on a Steinway of the warmest tone, with relaxed concentration. The results are such that, once you hear one, it’s hard not to listen to all seven of these works, omitting the two little Op. 49 sonatas, the bane of so many young piano pupils and really scant in interest. Of the rest, just to persuade you of the merits of these performances, I’d suggest Op. 28, the Pastoral. It’s an undervalued work, but won’t be by anyone who listens to this sublime account, as genial as any I have heard. On his blog Jumppanen pays tribute to Edwin Fischer, Wilhelm Kempff and Backhaus – you can hear why.

There is a tendency these days, which I applaud, to regard these early sonatas as under-valued. But it’s not a good idea to lay on the middle-period dramatics too thick, as is sometimes done, especially in slow movements, which gesture towards depth rather than achieving it. Jumppanen, who is a pianist with a very wide range, keeps things in perspective, so that the slow movements of these early works aren’t made to bear burdens they can’t sustain. This set has so many virtues that I’m tempted to make invidious comparisons, so I’ll stop there.

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Michael Tanner