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Beethoven sonatas STNS30188
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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.30 in E major Op109 [21:12]
Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat major Op110 [20:26]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor Op111 [27:21]
Gerardo Teissonnière (piano)
rec. 7-9 September 2021, Sono Luminus Studio, Boyce, USA
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
STEINWAY & SONS STNS30188 [69:06]

Apart from the early days of the gramophone, there can’t be many instances of pianists making their recording debut at the age of 60. Such is the case with the Puerto Rican, US based pianist, Gerardo Teissonnière, but I would prefer to dwell on his musical abilities rather than his age. These particular sonatas have always drawn young guns to try their luck with them in the recording studio, with generally mixed results, so the first thing to be said about this recording is there is definitely truth in the wisdom of experience. These are mature, seasoned accounts of all three sonatas which are refreshingly free of point making for the sake of being seen to be making a point.

On the evidence of this disc, Teissonnière’s musical personality tends toward the Olympian as distinct from the Apollonian or the Dionysian. There is no sense of the impulsive, for example, in an exemplary account of the opening movement of Op109. This helps enormously with the onward flow of the musical argument. I enjoyed the way he colours the music here. This is not a gruff Beethoven raised on wild honey and wearing a goatskin. Overall Op109 is the most successful of these three performances of the final three Beethoven sonatas. In itself, this speaks of what a fine musician Teissonnière is, as this is, by some margin, the trickiest of the late sonatas to pull off. The middle movement seems less serious in tone than usual and this seems appropriate to Teissonnière’s more mellow conception of the piece. In the finale, I think he judges the tempo just right. Taken too fast, as Tovey warned, and it can sound vapid, not least when set next to Op110 and Op111, but taken too slowly, as many younger pianists striving after profundity do, it ends up turgid.

On the debit side there are a few moments of rhythmic uncertainty and hesitation that really ought to have been picked up by the production team. They don’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Op109 but they do become a bit more of an issue in Op110, particularly in the opening movement. This ought to flow like a clear mountain stream but here sounds oddly disjointed. The many changes of tempo don’t seem either wholly integrated or wholly organic. The opening theme in particular seems bumpy next to my favourite recording by Solomon. This is a real pity since Teissonnière’s account of the finale is terrific. As with Solomon, his slight underplaying of the Handelian aria of the slow section of this movement renders it more not less affecting. If he doesn’t quite achieve the sense of exultant inevitability right at the end that Solomon achieves he at least gets within touching distance.

This is not the darkest rendering of the opening movement of Op111 you will ever hear though it has plenty of energy. I was reminded somewhat of Wilhelm Kempff’s pianism in the faster sections where both pianists emphasis clarity and lightness of touch. I did miss something of the frenzy of, say, Schnabel in this movement just as I felt I wanted more darkness to set against the finale’s serene light. Teissonnière’s unflappable calmness is of a piece with his approach to all three sonatas. His account of the finale may not be as transcendent as some but it has a welcome breadth and its less otherworldly manner brings warmer consolations. The way the end of the first movement vanishes into the heavens to usher in the second is beautifully done.

Craziness is an essential feature of this music and it is this quality I miss most in these fine interpretations. In the finale of Op111 it is the quality that raises Beethoven’s vision to the highest heights. Much as I enjoyed Teissonnière’s performances they are at bottom just a little bit well behaved. I should say that this is all relative. By no means are they dull or unengaging. Far from it. Lovers of Kempff in these sonatas will find a lot to enjoy, not least because the piano sound if a little close is superb. Let’s hope Teissonnière enjoys an extensive Indian summer in the studio!

David McDade

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