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Jascha Spivakovsky, Vol 3 = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas – Pristine Audio 

Jascha Spivakovsky: Bach to Bloch, Volume III = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in c minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 14 in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a “Les Adieux”; Piano Sonata No. 32 in c minor, Op. 111 – Pristine Audio PAKM 070, 76:02 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Pristine and Andrew Rose continue to nurture the Jascha Spivakovsky legend with four Beethoven sonatas.

The third installment of Pristine’s resuscitation of the Jascha Spivakovsky (1896-1970) legend now extends to four Beethoven sonatas, recorded 1955-1967, to supplement the Waldstein Sonata in Volume I.  For a recent radio tribute to Spivakovsky over KZSU-FM, Stanford—sharing the microphone with commentator Mark Ainley—I chose the 1957 broadcast performance of the Les Adieux Sonata, specifically conceived by Beethoven as a tribute to Archduke Rudolf. This rendition by Spivakovsky, pointedly virile, enjoys such an immediacy of effect – especially in dynamic contrasts – that it becomes a template of the Spivakovsky approach. The feelings of emotional oppression, in the opening Adagio and in the haunted Andante espressivo, proceed with a sustained gravity and pedaled continuity, only to dissipate in a rush of reconciliation at the Vivacissimo, as if the pianist’s own fingers had found singing liberation after a meticulous and pained maintenance of suppressed grief.

The first of the series, Beethoven’s Pathetique, derives from a 1967 home recording on his own Bluethner instrument, where a mask of the composer could witness the ritual. Wagner himself took much for Tristan from the opening movement, whose Grave initiates the chromaticism of the composer’s pain that finds a foil in the diatonism of the composer’s will. Spivakovsky’s fluid transitions into the quickening tempos and their respective shifts in register appear in lightning gestures, and those include the first movement repeat. The right hand velocity quite takes us by storm, while the bass notes, pedaled judiciously, produce an undercurrent of mortal drama. A lyrically poignant Adagio cantabile follows, chaste and rhythmically shaded by subtle rubato. A playfully resonant arioso no less infiltrates the Rondo: Allegro, whose pert canons enjoy a robust zest.

The Spivakovsky rendition of Sonata No.14 in C-Sharp Minor Op.27 No.2, “Moonlight” derives from a 1958 radio broadcast. The opening Adagio sostenuto moves at a moderate tempo, avoiding exaggerated sentimentality while clearly articulating the repetitive chord structure and its etched, singing legato. What captures us more than just the elegance of tone lies in the inexorable logic of the musical line. The playful Allegretto e Trio enjoys a spritely lilt and articulate poise. In the midst of the colossal, jabbing velocity of the last movement, Presto Agitato, we felicitate ourselves on Spivakovsky’s strength in the left hand, which adds a shaded, demonic excitement to the whole. The continuity of runs and cadence landings becomes quite mesmeric, rife with color and sweeping conviction.

Spivakovsky plays his patented reading of the Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Op.111 from his home, on a Steinway instrument, c. 1966. Spivakovsky’s controlled, articulate voicing of Beethoven’s labyrinthine polyphony becomes the remarkable selling-point of this often staggering performance, on a par with readings by Solomon and Backhaus. Spivakovsky in the first movement Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed Appassionato lithely recovers the original thrust each time, terracing the moody affects as they surge volcanically forward and then relent just as mysteriously into fragmented canons and trills.

The opening Arietta, clear and cool, makes us wish to hear Spivakovsky in the no less famed Aria from Bach’s Goldbergs. Much of the clear articulation of the melodic tissue reminds us of both Solomon and Michelangeli. In the forward direction of his vision of this movement, Spivakovsky recalls what Bruce Hungerford could bring to the intricacies of this music and its often jazzy permutations. The rhythmic flexibility, too, acquires a volatility that adds color and hectic excitement to this familiar, concentrated opus. Halfway through the movement Beethoven breaks the music down into pulverized fragments and swirling gestures, much in advance of Schoenberg and company.  But these, too, assume the character of melody, lilted and even dancelike, delicately gossamer in the echo effects and sudden evocations of an Aeolian harp.

—Gary Lemco

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