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Dunelm Records

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) McLachan Plays the 32 Beethoven Sonatas, Volume 2
Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49, No. 1 [7:48]
Sonata No. 20 in G major, Op. 49, No. 2 [9:03]
Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, ‘Waldstein’ [24:57]
Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54 [12:16]
Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, ‘Appassionata’ [24:01]
Murray McLachan (piano)
rec. Whiteley Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, Summer 2003
DUNELM DRD0202 [78:05]

The numbers which these sonatas carry may easily mislead. These five sonatas don’t constitute a straightforward chronological sequence. The op. 49 sonatas (nos. 19 and 20) probably written in 1796,  some five years before nos. 16-18 (published as op. 31) and before their companions on this disc, which belong to the years between 1803 and 1807. It appears to have been Beethoven’s brother Caspar who sent the op. 49 sonatas to the publisher – without the approval of the composer. They are relatively undemanding technically – Sir Donald Tovey described them as “two beautiful sonatinas within the range of small hands and young players”. Both are in two movements only. The opening andante of no. 19 is in very straightforward sonata form. Its somewhat unexpected conclusion in G major is particularly attractive and prepares the listener for the ensuing allegro in this key. No. 20’s opening allegro is characterised by its lively triplets and is followed by a minuet. Both movements are charming and graceful, not least the minuet, the melody of which Beethoven reused in the Septet, op. 20 of 1800.
There is a considerable distance – in style, scale, ambition and achievement – between these two ‘sonatinas’ and no. 21 – the ‘Waldstein’. As Ian Milnes’ booklet notes remind us, in 1803 Beethoven obtained a new Erard piano with an extended higher register, shortly before the composition of this sonata dedicated to Count Waldstein. This is keyboard music which has a new power and energy and might almost be said to be ‘about’ energy and power, communicating as it does Beethoven’s triumphant pleasure and fully-justified confidence in his own creativity. McLachlan’s playing fully articulates the way in which the sound-world of this sonata is so very different - for all that it audibly grows from the same tradition. The remarkable second movement, marked introduzione, – much of it based on transformations of the opening three notes – is perhaps the first place in the Beethoven piano sonatas where one feels the need for an adjective such as ‘philosophical’ as part of an attempt - inevitably unsuccessful - to put into words what is going on. It leads into the closing rondo, full of rhythmic energy and joy and rounded off by  a dazzling coda. McLachlan’s performance is more convincing in the rondo than in the introduzione, where forward momentum sometime seems to slacken just a bit too much.
Sonata No. 22 being relatively brief and being framed, as it were, by the Waldstein and the Appassionata, seems to attract relatively little attention. Yet it is a work of considerable interest, well described by Tovey as “what can be comprised in ten minutes of [Beethoven’s] most Socratic humour ... The first movement seems quite happy with a main theme that cannot get through 4 bars without a full close, and prefers to sit down after 2. The finale, on the other hand, cannot stop at all, though its initial range of sentence is only 2 bars, with a hiccup at the third”! The toccata-like second movement is particularly fine, with a remarkable syncopated coda. McLachlan brings out very well the formal shape of the piece, playing with customary clarity and lack of mannerism.
With the Appassionata we reach one of the high watermarks of the whole keyboard tradition, an innovative work which must have been profoundly startling to its early hearers and which retains its power to challenge and disturb. Its music resonates in areas of tragedy which Beethoven’s piano music - or anybody else’s - had not previously entered. The twin storms of opening and allegro assai and closing allegro ma non troppo frame a central adagio in which a fleeting peacefulness is achieved. McLachlan is up to all the technical demands and there is considerable power in his representation of the tormented semiquavers of the finale. Even so, in range and depth of emotional content, there are even finer performances to be heard on CD.
I haven’t heard volume 1 of McLachlan’s traversal of the sonatas. The present volume is a thoroughly admirable set of performances, played with power and clarity of purpose and a refreshing freedom from the kind of wilfulness which mars some performances by bigger pianistic names. This would be a fine set through which to get to know this wonderful music and no admirer of Beethoven is likely to regret finding room for it on his or her shelves. But, it has to be said, in a field so competitive, it isn’t a CD one could put quite at the top of the list.
Glyn Pursglove


Dunelm Records




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