BEETHOVEN: Easy Piano Works, Vol. I = Six Variations in G after La Molinara; Pieces for Playing Clocks; Rondo in C Major, Op. 51, No. 1; Klavierstueck in B-flat Major; Klavierstueck in B Minor; Klavierstueck in G Minor; Klavierstueck in A Minor “Fuer Elise”; Klavierstueck “Lustig – Traurig”; 7 Bagatelles, Op. 33  and Op. 119; Bagatelle, Op. 126, No. 5; Piano Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Op. 79 – Joerg Demus, piano – Tuxedo TUXCD 043, 51:00 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Joerg Demus (b. 1928) recorded this series of relatively “facile” pieces by Beethoven in 1968, works that display Beethoven’s improvisational skills, which he honed particularly for Vienna audiences. Typical of the light and fluent style of florid performance, the first selection, Beethoven’s WoO 70, Six Variations on the Duet “Nel cor piu non mi sento” from Paisiello’s La Molinara, maintains a solid, bass line pulse over which Beethoven can sing bel canto. The easy figures convey a plastic, Mediterranean humor we often miss in the more conventional oeuvre. A true curiosity, the Two Pieces for Playing Clocks, WoO 33 (1799)  pays homage to a flute-playing clock owned by Count Joseph Deym, an “instrument” Mozart had deemed “a rigid and spiritless contrivance” when he composed his F Minor Fantasy, K. 608. The Adagio assai movement has several lovely sostenuto passages, as well as rolling arpeggios much in the Vienna style. The Scherzo – Allegro offers a tripping, staggered dance in the form of a duet. 

Whether deliberately or no, Demus imposes a music-box sonority upon Beethoven’s 1796 Rondo in C, dedicated to Henriette Lychnowsky. The piece moves between two affects, grazioso and dolce, that comprise the work’s ingenuous charm. Demus’ rounded arpeggio sections resonate with Vienna temperament. The series of klaviersuecke Demus performs testify to Beethoven’s affection for selected patrons and women, not mutually exclusive. The Little Piece in B-flat Major (1818) celebrates Marie Szymanowska. Ferdinand Piringer, a devout music lover, inspired the Piano Piece in B Minor, a moment of askew beauty that looks ahead while nodding to Bach.  Charles Burney’s daughter, Sarah Burney-Payne, is the dedicatee of the 1825 Piano Piece in A Major, a contrapuntal piece that plays in thirty seconds. The ubiquitous Bagatelle in A Minor, “Fuer Elise” (1810), Demus plays with tenderness and solicitude, opening more brightly in its middle section. The dedicatee had been Therese Malfatti, whom Beethoven intended to wed. Pieces for Piano: Cheerful and Sad seems to be Beethoven’s response to Schubert, and his music projects galant confidence.

Demus draws upon the three “official” opera of Bagatelles Beethoven composed intermittently over the years. The F Major, Op. 33, No. 3(1802) enjoys a fluid, rustic jauntiness.  From the Op. 119 set (1820) Demus selects five of varying character, several of which demonstrate an impressive compression. The G Minor opener proves the largest of them. The A Minor ranks as among the briefest of all piano music. The G Major, Op. 126, No. 5 (1824) moves into a modal sonority, the bass shadowing the top line. Within a narrow compass, the piece embraces a rarified expressiveness.

Finally, the 1809 “Sonata facile” in G Major, one of a triptych of extroverted, bravura pieces Beethoven submitted to his colleague Muzio Clementi. The Presto alla tedesca Demus plays in the manner of sophisticated, witty German dance, not so wild in demeanor as some performers like Hess and Backhaus have made it. The ensuing Andante in G Minor projects a lulling character, much like a barcarolle. The closing Vivace Demus realizes with a peasant charm, wry and metrically knotty when Beethoven wishes to reveal the imp in his nature.

—Gary Lemco