Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4: No. 12 in A flat, Op. 26; No. 13 in E flat, Op. 27/1; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 (Moonlight); No. 15 in D, Op. 28 (Pastorale)

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4: No. 12
in A flat, Op. 26; No. 13 in E flat, Op. 27/1; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 (Moonlight); No. 15 in D, Op. 28 (Pastorale)

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PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano)

CATALOGUE NO: 476 5875
András Schiff’s Beethoven Sonata cycle, recorded in the somewhat boomy acoustics of Zürich’s Tonhalle, continues to be stimulating and provocative, always forcing one to hear such familiar music in a new light. As he approaches the final sonatas of the composer’s early period, Schiff makes us fully aware of the enormous stylistic and emotional journey that Beethoven had traversed from his first essays in the medium. Indeed by maximising contrast of tone, voicing, characterisation and dynamics in the opening movement of the A flat Op. 26 Sonata, he serves to emphasise the extraordinarily prophetic nature of Beethoven’s musical language, the final variation almost sounding as if it could have been composed by Chopin. Schiff’s wonderfully expansive almost dreamy approach to the Finale of the Pastoral Sonata Op. 28, too, brings an unexpectedly Schubertian dimension to the movement.

Undoubtedly the most controversial performance is that of the Moonlight. As Malcolm Bilson has triumphantly demonstrated in his recording on the Claves label, the fortepiano can easily accommodate Beethoven’s specific instructions to perform the opening Adagio sostenuto with two beats in the bar and the sustaining pedal held down throughout. Whether such an approach can work successfully on a modern instrument is more of a moot point, and some may feel that Schiff’s determination to adopt Beethoven’s demands to the letter results in too flowing a tempo and an unacceptable blurring of harmonies. For me however the experience is revelatory – the surrealistic aural tapestry conveying more vividly than ever a sense of painful isolation as the composer struggled with his impending deafness. It also provides a logical narrative for the whole Sonata, Schiff providing scant emotional relief in the brief Allegretto before launching into the Finale with defiance and real sense of anger.

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A magnificent release.Eric Levi