> Beethoven Sonatas Bilson[CC] : Classical Reviews- Dec 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonatas:- No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2 No. 1 (1795) [15'23]; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, 'Moonlight' (1801) [14'14]; No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2, 'Tempest' (1802) [23'54]; No. 28 in A, Op. 101 (1816) [20'20].
Malcolm Bilson (fortepiano).
Rec: Maria Minor Church, Utrecht, Holland and Masterview Sound Studio, Ithaca, New York, 1996. DDD
CLAVES CD50-2104 [73'45]
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Malcolm Bilson plays four famous Beethoven Sonatas on this disc, one from the composer's first period, two from his middle period and one from the last. As a recital, it works well, providing a fluent hour and a quarter's listening.

The important point about this issue is that Bilson plays on four period instruments. The differences between these four instruments are indeed large, and listeners used to the modern concert grand may find that this new sound-world provides a whole new take on these well-loved pieces.

The Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2 No. 1, is played on a 1996 Paul McNulty copy of a 1795, five-octave Anton Walter fortepiano which has a light sound. The fast tempo Bilson adopts for the first movement (marked 'Allegro') is entirely appropriate to the instrument's tone. Sforzati have a real edge to them, particularly in the bass register. Similarly, the finale (taken at a true Presto) presents a fiery, dramatic F minor. The highlight of the performance has to be the slow movement, taken at a comfortable, flowing Adagio with well-projected treble and possessed of much delicacy.

The first of the two middle-period Sonatas is the ever-popular 'Moonlight,' played on a Thomas and Barbara Wolf 1990 copy of an 1800 Johann Schantz five-octave instrument. There is more capacity for sustaining power here. Bilson plays the entire first movement with the dampers raised and the moderator engaged and issues an entreaty in his notes 'Please don't turn the volume up too loud ...'. It is, indeed, calming and peaceful. Again, the more visceral accents of early pianos make their presence felt in the last two movements (the finale is truly 'con fuoco', coming close to overloading at times).

The 'Tempest' is heard on a 1996 copy by Chris Maene of a 1795 five-octave Walter. Bilson projects the muted, mysterious introduction well, and plays the whole movement with a heightened sense of the dramatic. The recitative passages are plaintive in effect. Unfortunately, the slow movement lacks the full concentration it requires and so it feels as if it just plods along. The finale, taken quite slowly, is nevertheless flowing (even if it does give the definite impression of three-in-a-bar), and Bilson plays up the unfolding drama.

The disc includes the first of the great final five Sonatas, No. 28 in A, Op. 101. Here Bilson plays a restored six-and-a-half octave Gottlieb Hafner, from around 1835. Immediately it is clearly obvious that this is a later piano. Bilson enjoys the warmer sound of his instrument, while keeping the first movement moving. The explosive beginning of the second movement bodes well, but momentum does drop during the course of the argument. The final movement poses many and different challenges. Bilson evokes a wonderful sense of calm at the outset, but can be over-literal later. The fugue, however, is given full concentration and the element of wit towards the end is very welcome.
A most stimulating release.

Colin Clarke

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Sonata No.1 in F minor Op.2 No.1

Menuetto: Allegretto

Sonata No.14 in C-sharp minor Op.27 No.2
Adagio Sostenuto
Presto agitato

Sonata No.17 in D minor Op.31 No.2
Largo - Allegro

Sonata No.28 in A major Op.101
Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung
Lebhaft. Marschmassig
Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll

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