BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat Major, OP. 26 “Funeral March”; Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier” – Maria Yudina, piano – APR 5670, 76:44 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Russian Piano Tradition series continues with this installment dedicated to the fiery, iconoclastic Maria Yudina (1899-1970), the great pupil of Essipova, Drozdov, and Nikolayev, who often brought governmental reproach upon herself for her unwavering support of “New Music.” Here, Yudina plays Beethoven from inscriptions made for Melodiya LP in Moscow, 1954-1958, the fine restorations via Bryan Crimp.
Yudina opens her “recital” with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 12 in A-flat (rec. 1958), whose Maestoso andante movement, its funeral march in the tonic minor, defines the piece for most listeners. Yudina treats the opening movement, the Andante con variazioni in 3/8, as a world unto itself, setting off the remaining movements to act in the conventional fast-slow-fast structure. Ever thoughtful, the carefully nuanced applications of non-legato convey great expressivity comparable to the Haydn F Minor Variations, given a rather tinny piano tone. Almost brazen, the ternary Scherzo scampers from A-flat to D-flat, building tension from incrementally tiny kernels of dance patterns that suddenly urge forth like impulsive sprites. Yudina’s Funeral March provides an “orchestral” sonority obviously looking forward to the Eroica Symphony. The last movement Allegro skitters along moto perpetuo, breathless but not shapeless, a step away from the Op. 33 Bagatelles.
Beethoven himself expressed his 1816 A Major Sonata (rec. 1958) as a “series of impressions and reveries,” and Yudina plays the ephemeral opening movement as a slow progression of cumulative, introspective affects. The Vivace alla Marcia exploits contrapuntal techniques of canon and fughetta into a rather diaphanous texture, despite the occasional menace implied in the bass line. These same polyphonic devices saturate the last movement, into which Yudina tears with a mercurial, holy dread. The slow movement, on the other hand, Yudina plays as a personal prayer, close in spirit to the slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata, but more rarified, acting as both a quick reprise of movement one and a segue to the finale.
The 1954 Hammerklavier Sonata must rank among the most “brittle” of conceptions, yet her intellectual grip on the main theme’s modality reveals how tightly Beethoven proceeds by descending thirds throughout the movement. The galloping fluidity, the stunning trills, and easy canonic persuasiveness of execution make me wonder if Yudina knew Louis Kentner’s trail-blazing performance from the 1930s. The ironies of the brief second movement Scherzo as a parody of the first movement are not on Yudina, who manages some lithe colors in the brisk canonic passages. To the labyrinthine Adagio sostenuto in F-sharp Minor Yudina brings an immense and willful patience, a grand design of sorrow that well anticipates evolutions in the form by Bruckner. The falling figures several times ask us if the Brahms Fourth comes directly from their plaints. That the last movement provides a full textbook on contrapuntal techniques, huge leaps, and the application of inversion and retrograde stretti Yudina is well aware, and she exploit’s the resources of her limited acoustics to communicate the breadth of Beethoven’s colossal ideas, filtered through two equally dominant temperaments, his and Yudina’s. Stravinsky once called the Hammerklavier “inexhaustible and exhausting,” but he may well have so spoken of Yudina’s uncompromising personality.