Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 30, Op 109 [21:04]
Piano Sonata No 31, Op 110 [19:11]
Piano Sonata No 32, Op 111 [27:57]
Inger Södergren (piano)
rec. 1978, Paris (Opp 110, 111); 1989, l’Espace Icare, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France
CALLIOPE CAL 7648 [68:12]
Inger Södergren’s playing in these three sonatas is as songlike, meditative, and purely poetic as anybody around. Sometimes, in her hands, the music feels fragile, as if it could break apart at a touch, although in the case of the last two sonatas this is because the very early digital recording (1978) makes her piano sound rather frail. That acoustic quality rather marred my first impression, because Emil Gilels took the ultra-romantic approach on DG but with a fuller, more colorful tone. After more exposure I have grown to like Södergren’s performances very much. Her lyrical touch is unfailing, but it never reaches excesses which make the music feel slack (Gilels can). The fugue in Op 110 is appropriately objective and baroque-like with a decent sense of ultimate triumph - dampened by the brisk final chord. The opening movements of all three sonatas have snap but those expansive variation movements in Nos. 30 and 32 are simply luminous. That’s especially true of No. 30 which is taken at a blissfully slow pace (14:33) which, paired with Södergren’s tender phrasing, makes each variation breathe at its own deep, restful beat. The arietta of the final sonata opens with a hushed statement of the theme that’s like hearing a hymn sung from another room; magic. Only that improbable ‘fast’ variation halfway through disappoints.
It’s worth pointing out that to work its way into my heart, this CD had to overcome my bemusement with the spectacularly bad liner-note. Op. 110 is misspelled “Opus 10” and described as “the final destruction of the classical sonata form … the most shattering son of the despair of love.” It’s “still a human work, two human”, although this makes more sense than the description of Op. 109 as Beethoven being “madly in love. Flabbergasted and breathless at such happiness”. Maynard Solomon, in Beethoven, contradicts the note: by the later years, “he had limited his sexual activity to a succession of loveless relationships that … did not engage his deeper feelings.” Opus 111 is mistakenly described as having been written “a year later”, though Solomon says in his biography that Beethoven completed the sonata within only a few months of having finished its predecessor. 111 is, the note tells me, “the miracle that illuminates the world. The first movement: the ultimate cry, the most powerful, the most deeply torn from its entrails.” Ouch!
Fear not, listener: there are no torn entrails on this disc. Only the glassy sound and the presence of other, more warmly recorded poets (Gilels, Penelope Crawford with my favorite Op 111 variations, Andrea Lucchesini perhaps) keep me from giving this the highest recommendation. Inger Södergren is clearly a Beethoven performer of the greatest lyrical rank and her performances here are as deeply felt and well-realized as anybody’s. You can take the greatest pleasure from this album, with your innards intact.
Brian Reinhart 

Masterwork Index: Sonatas 30-32

Glassy sound and a madcap liner note can’t prevent Södergren from delivering top-rank Beethoven.