BEETHOVEN: “Moonlight Sonata” – Pavel Kolesnikov – Hyperion 

by | Oct 2, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Andante in C Major, WoO 211; Presto in C minor, WoO 52; Allegretto in C Major, WoO 56; Allegretto in C minor, WoO 53; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33; Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 14, No. 2; 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80 – Pavel Kolesnikov, piano – Hyperion CDA68237, 76:18 (8/31/18)  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

Pavel Kolesnikov (rec. 21-23 June 2017) presents an unusual combination of Beethoven’s piano oeuvre on this program, ranging from four of his unpublished “miniatures” or bagatelles that he penned 1792-1803 to the ubiquitous 1802 Sonata No. 14, the “Moonlight.”  The opening C Major Andante only appeared in the 1975 Henle Complete Beethoven Edition. The charming piece hovers between Baroque delicacy and the Viennese wit Beethoven gleaned from Haydn.  The C minor Presto (pub. 1888) may have been meant for the Sonata No. 5 in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1, given its emotional vehemence and its trio in scalar thirds. The Allegretto in C Major (pub. 1888) evolved during the composition of the C Major “Waldstein” Sonata of 1803, perhaps to serve as menuet and trio. Lacking a true melody, the music glides in polyphony, with a trio that sings over a constant bass figure. The relatively expansive Allegretto in C minor embraces the Beethoven of the sudden dramatic shifts, alternating a stately resolve with delicate, reflective, dreamy filigree. The trio section proceeds in canon, with bell-like peals that often adumbrate the second movement of the “Moonlight.”

A veiled mysticism infiltrates Kolesnikov’s performance of the most famous arpeggio in music, the Adagio sostenuto from Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor,” quasi una fantasia. As the sonata-form proceeds, the music assumes a clear sense of “the point,” driving forward emotionally yet, as Beethoven directs, “with the utmost delicacy.” The C-sharp Major/D-flat Allegretto reveals a kind of modesty and demure sense of acceleration, a hybrid minuet that occasionally hints at a scherzo. The vehement Presto agitato restructures much of the opening movement so that the pervasive G-sharps acquire a punishing momentum, the strife between light and dark now fully cognizant of Beethoven’s Manichean temperament. The velocity and virtuosity of the writing finds relief in the melodic content, now clearly set in a “romantic” sensibility.  If a literary character could claim this volatile music and its emotional abyss, it might well be Bronte’s Rochester in Jane Eyre, who himself embodies the Byronic hero.

The Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 (1803) have their attractions for Kolesnikov, given their ability to evolve from “improvisation” to sonata-fragment. The E-flat Major seems sedate enough as an impromptu until both sforzati and mischievous scales intrude. The No. 2 in C Major proffers the first of three scherzos in the set. The explosiveness lies in the jarring accents that precede a thunderous sense of menace. We travel into A minor prior to the Trio section, staccati in thirds that makes the right hand trail the left. The syncopes at the da capo now sound even more impetuous and impertinent. The F Major No. 3 has a pastoral or fairy-tale quality that likely appealed to Schumann. At a pianissimo the music modulates to D Major but never losing its simple, rustic character. A lovely song without words, No. 4 in A Major proceeds as a duet, first for alto and soprano, then for bass and tenor. Chopin might have appreciated the organic nature of the trill to the melodic curve. The No. 5 in C Major proffers scherzo number two, a playful parody of a polonaise, with a Trio in C minor. The melody rises in octaves over dark, menacing triplets in the bass. Kolesnikov accentuates the dynamic contrasts so that we well stand in awe of Beethoven’s expressive range. The D Major No. 6 has a parlando or speech-like quality that renders the piece akin to much of the maerchen in Schumann. If a story does unfold here, it peaks with the tolling of bells. An enigmatic spirit reigns in the A-flat Major, N. 7, a wild scherzo that indulges in manic, left-hand chords reminiscent both of the Waldstein and moments in Rage over a Lost Penny. A monster pedal point will unleash delicate melodic kernels, but not before the antic hay of the piece claims final victory.

Portrait Beethoven, by Hornemann

Ludwig van Beethoven,
by Hornemann

Beethoven completed two sonatas he designated for his Op. 14 (1799), both of which stand in firm contrast to the agitations of the Pathetique.  The opening Allegro of the G Major contains three main themes, the first of which presents some ambiguity in the beat. The three tunes project a merry sense of spontaneity. Much of the Haydn influence exerts itself, as when Beethoven brings back his main tune in a false recapitulation, here in E-flat Major. Kolesnikov imbues the music with a warm, lulling lyricism and brilliant patina. The secondary tune does explore explosive possibilities. The Andante gives us a stately march tune and three variations. The second of the variants proves most colorful in its off-beat applications. Beethoven may have wished to honor Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony” (No. 94 in G), when, near the end, he follows a series of pp chords with a fortissimo clang.  Beethoven picks up his rhythmic ambiguity once more in his skittish Scherzo: Allegro assai, a dance that embraces a broad diapason of the keyboard. Potent starts and stops keep us alerted to Kolesnikov’s fond antics in his playing, rife with personal rubato.

The year 1806 brought Beethoven’s imagination to address his love for Baroque structure, particularly the chaconne as he conceives it, with an austere triple-time, eight-bar theme he subjects to 32 Variations in C minor.  The left hand traces a somber harmonic pattern—marked lamento in the bass—that descends in semitones, while the right hand counters with parallel flights upward by a semitone. Beethoven moves to a fateful, sforzando F minor by having both hands build a chord of four notes each. Beethoven explores harmonic and textural continuities in this audacious study, and his dynamics range from leggierissimo (in staccato 16ths) to highly percussive fortes. Several of the effects point directly to Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes and the Brahms sets of variations on Handel and Paganini. Kolesnikov brings any number of articulate colors to this impressive display by Beethoven, emphasizing not only the centrality of Variations—mainly in C Major—12-17, but the “recapitulation” of Variation 31 that repeats figures from the first appearance of the right hand declamations, against the whirl in the left hand that the coda exploits.  The intensity of Kolesniov’s performance ranks this recording—courtesy of Producer Andrew Keener—one of the great ones.

—Gary Lemco




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