RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas - Vol. 2
Piano Sonata No.15, Op.28 in D, Pastorale [24:11]
Piano Sonata No.19, Op.49 No.1 in G minor [8:09]
Piano Sonata No.20, Op.49 No.2 in G [7:52]
Piano Sonata No.21, Op.53 in C, Waldstein [27:04]
Three sonatas Op.31:
No.16 in G [25:34]
No.17 in D minor, Tempest [24:31]
No.18 in E flat [22:37]
Piano Sonata No.23, Op.57 in F minor, Appassionata [23:06]
Piano Sonata No.25, Op.79 in G [9:39]
Piano Sonata No.24, Op.78 in F-sharp [9:08]
Piano Sonata No.28, Op.101 in A [19:25]
Piano Sonata No.22, Op.54 in F [11:57]
François-Frédéric Guy (piano)
rec. live 18 May 2010 (Opp. 28, 49, 53), 8 December 2010 (Op.31), 19 April 2011 (Opp. 57, 78, 101), 20 April 2011 (Opp. 54, 79)
ZIG-ZAG TERRITOIRES ZZT304 [3 CDs: 67:16 + 72:42 + 73:15]
What I like about François-Frédéric Guy’s Beethoven cycle is that, although it is generally governed by good taste, refinement, and a polished French elegance, you can never be completely certain what he’s going to do next. This is a live recording, captured over the course of several one-night-each recitals in Metz, France, and the cliché about live music’s spontaneity is in this case true. Guy digs into some phrases with unexpected relish, carefully balances classical refinement with Haydn-like wit in sonatas such as No.18 (Op.31/3), and finds ways to make his more original gestures emerge organically from the music itself. He’s neither fast nor slow as a general rule, but adapts to the sonata at hand. Some parts of the CDs are quite dashing and virtuosic - Volume 1’s Moonlight was a stunner, and the Appassionata here is a classic too - but then there’s the 27-minute Waldstein, a very romantic reading hinging on an adagio of rare fragility and loneliness.
This set contains a lot of “little” sonatas: Opp. 49, 54, 78, and 79 take just 8-12 minutes each, but Guy’s care is no less evident. Few pianists treat Op.49 with such love: tiny Sonata No. 19, one of my very favorites, receives an ever-so-soft touch in its first movement and then Guy dances through the rondo with glittery abandon. A similar balance informs the delightful Op. 78, and the twenty-fifth sonata (Op. 79), after a slightly slow beginning, achieves something close to perfection. Guy’s soft touch in its andante is a thing of wonder, and overall it’s hard to match this performance for a blend of Haydn’s charm and grace with the bolder but more vulnerable sound of a new era. My long-time favourites are those polar opposites, Emil Gilels and Ronald Brautigam.
The emphasis throughout is on lyricism - listen to the warmth and grace of the minuet in Op. 31/3, or the mysterious black pearl that is Op. 101’s third movement. It’s not all like that, from the slow yet unusually staccato delivery of Op.31/1’s adagio to the Appassionata, maybe not the flashiest ever but superb all the same, with glowing central variations and a thunderous finale. Guy’s capacity to surprise and stimulate is obvious everywhere. His Pastorale offers a speedy allegro which does not stint on warmth or welcoming feeling for one moment. It does fall a bit short of Ivan Moravec live in Brussels on Supraphon, and isn’t as dramatic as Kovacevich on EMI. His scherzo here is a gem; the opening phrase is a soft, sly delight every time it reappears.
The recorded sound is very close, but it doesn’t sacrifice any of the piano’s colours except for a bit of clogging at the loudest moments. Guy’s tonal palette and his refined playing always shine through. Plus, the acoustic may be close but it is not dry, rather like a prize seat in a small hall. There’s a picture of the space in the booklet. There is applause at the end of each CD’s final track. The essay text is very lightly printed and not as informative as, say, Stewart Goodyear’s annotations, but perfectly acceptable. The set comes in a little slimline box. I greet this set with enthusiasm as, along with Volume 1, some of the best, most consistently excellent performances of these sonatas in the century so far.
I greet this along with Volume 1 with enthusiasm … some of the best, most consistently excellent performances in the century so far.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonatas 9-15 ~~ 16-24 ~~ 25-32