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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas - No. 16 in G, Op. 31 No. 1; No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2, 'Tempest'; No. 18 in E flat, Op. 31 No. 3.
Louis Lortie (piano).
Chandos CHAN9842 [DDD] [71'58]

The three sonatas that make up Op. 31 should make a very satisfying, well contrasted CD's worth. Not here. Their contrasts take in middle-period angst (Tempest, in particular), charm (the Adagio grazioso of Op. 31 No. 1, for example) and virtuosity. Despite Lortie's obvious attributes of an apt, approachable sound and carefully prepared fingerwork, there is an impression of only receiving half of the story.

Perhaps it is an unwillingness to indulge in long-term musical thought that is the main fault here. The Adagio grazioso of (Op. 31) No. 1 seems indeterminate; the Adagio of No. 2 is overly literal. In the case of the latter, the exposed left-hand octaves are empty, here appearing as a non-expressive gesture shorn of mystery. Lortie does not make the mistake of taking the finale of this sonata (marked only Allegretto) too fast, but instead of sounding gentle and spontaneous the effect is just laboured. Similarly, the finale of No. 1 is charming enough, but lacks the force of personality required to maintain interest.

No. 3 continues the relentless streak, and it is this that renders the first movement less than gripping. Lortie seems not to see (or chooses to ignore) Beethoven's humorous side: the left hand staccato of the Allegretto vivace Scherzo needs to be well sprung and, above all, cheeky. Here it is neither.

The recording is generally acceptable, although in the first movement of No. 2 it tends towards the clangourous.

So many other viable alternatives from the archives make this a superfluous release.


Colin Clarke




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