Piano Works of the Young Beethoven – Piano Sonatas Nos 5, 7, 8-10, 12, 14, 15 & 18; Andante in F major, WoO 57; Two Rondos, Op. 51; Alla ingharese in G major, Op. 129
Jos van Immerseel (piano)
Alpha Classics ALPHA594 214:38 mins (3 discs)
Beethoven’s late and ‘heroic’ period sonatas are programmed much more often than his ‘early’ ones. Yet the latter are just as inspiring in their originality, warmth, energy and joie de vivre. The rationale for the exact selection presented here is not quite clear – and, notwithstanding the album’s title, Piano Works of the Young Beethoven, the composer wasn’t all that young when he wrote them, since by Op. 31 he was into his 30s. But that is to split hairs over accounts as sympathetic and often ear-opening as these.
Jos van Immerseel plays a 1988 copy by Christopher Clark of an 1800 Anton Walter fortepiano. This instrument strikes the ideal balance of songfulness and bite, besides offering a magnificent range of colouristic potential across its different registers: a satisfying darkness in the bass (splendid in the Pathétique) offset by a bright, forward treble, and distinctly different, veiled tones when muted. Immerseel translates that into beautifully shaded effects in question-and-answer moments such as Op. 31 No. 3. The music’s personal, intimate qualities shine out through detailed phrasing: a lift of breath in the minuet of Op. 10 No. 3 is one of many heartwarming examples. He does not take up Beethoven’s suggestion of keeping the dampers raised through the Moonlight’s first movement, which might have been interesting.
The tempos seem sometimes rather leisurely, allowing detail to come through, yet occasionally suppressing the potential for contrast and brilliance. Still, it is a deeply rewarding set that accentuates underrated facets of this most communicative of composers.