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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata No. 8 in C Minor Op. 13 Pathetique (1798)
Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27 No. 2 Moonlight (1801)
Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op. 57 Appassionata (1804)
Glenn Gould, piano
Recorded CBS Studios New York 18 October 1967


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Gould overwhelmingly favoured Beethovenís early works. The corollary was his wholesale rejection of the essentially canonical Beethoven, the visionary and metaphysical. Out went the Violin Concerto, Appassionata, all the last Quartets, Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 (and the last movement of the Ninth) and the Fifth Piano concerto. Surviving the purge were Symphonies 2 and 8, the Op. 18 Quartets and Op. 95 and amongst the piano sonatas, the Moonlight, The transgressive, indomitably outrageous Gould reserves his greatest venom for the Appassionata, which he berated for indulging the triumphalist. The Moonlight, despite its popularity, appealed to him because it was "a masterpiece of intuitive organization."

And yet what an unyielding performance the Moonlight receives. At his unrelieved mezzo forte Gould is quick and cool in the opening Adagio sostenuto and indulges in some point-scoring rhythmic licence in the second, draining the line as he does so. In the finale he is, despite his admiration for Beethovenís structural acuity, himself less than persuasive when it comes to design. The Pathetique is certainly not over-scrupulous when it comes to textual fidelity but it is at least vigorous and dramatic with a slow movement of unsettled and questing movement, sparked by disruptive left-hand accents. His Appassionata is too well known for extensive comment but here it is again in all its perverse glory. Funereal tempi, halting, hesitant, fragmentary, this interminable Burlesque Beethoven sports an opening movement lasting a quarter of an hour. Subverting "egoistic pomposity" as Gould saw it is one thing but actively to disable momentum in the Andante con moto, to impose a non-legato, lumpen nose thumbing triviality is another.

Michael Stegemannís notes consider the dichotomous heart of Gouldís relationship with Beethoven and also touch lightly upon the complex issues of fidelity and imaginative recreation that adhere to his performances of these and other sonatas.

Jonathan Woolf

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