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. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” – Shuann Chai, fortepiano – Postern Park PPD011, 58:51 [firstname.lastname@example.org] ****:
Shuann Chai appears to be an upcoming artist of renown who specializes in period as well as contemporary keyboards. Having studied with Anton Kuerti, Ms. Chai turns her attentions (rec. 19 July and 16, 17 October 2010) to the music of Beethoven as performed on David Winston instrument fashioned after Michael Rosenberger, C. 1798. The fortepiano, Chai, explains, speaks “the language of the composer. . .in the proportions and scale on which it was conceived.”
Chai opens with her program of well-familiar sonatas with the Pathetique. She takes the first movement repeat, and she achieves a sturdy balance of energies chromatic and fateful, and diatonic and willful. Her tempo on the lovely Adagio cantabile conveys a palpable charm, given the often transparent textures of the pianoforte’s relatively light action. The Rondo, moreover, loses not a whit of its bravura firepower, a phenomenon we witness just as vividly in the finale of the Moonlight. Chai’s opening tempo for the arpeggiations that define the C-sharp Minor first movement remains steady, a mite andantino for what Beethoven designates as Adagio sostenuto. The muted pedal effects of the fortepiano bestow a filtered color upon the mystical proceedings. The ensuing Allegretto extends a bite, a touch of raspy throatiness, to the limpid dance. The mighty toccata that concludes the sonata proffers a potent cascade of sound despite the reduced percussive sonority of the instrument. Occasionally, close miking catches the clicks of Chai’s digits against the keys, a metallic distraction. But Chai’s Herculean prowess in the closing movement reveals a temperament undaunted by Beethoven’s towering personality, quite accomplished in presenting Beethoven’s muse as lyrical and dramatically monumental at once.
The tempestuous Appassionata Sonata gains considerable articulate clarity by virtue of the fortepiano, though few of us will sacrifice our Steinway or Baldwin versions. Chai conceives the piece as a study in rising and falling energies, and she accents those high figurations that soon descend back into Stygian depths. The passing Neapolitan harmonies, too, benefit from the alchemical mix of fortepiano textures. The ubiquitous four-note motto of Fate, pregnant at the edge of the coda, rushes to judgment with a fierce energy worthy of William Blake’s Tyger. Perhaps the most diaphanous moments occur in the course of the lovely theme and variations that comprise the Andante con moto. Each successive variant, moving an octave higher, culminates in a liberated song of joy, only to descend into a bass-heavy abyss for the tumult of the last movements throes, Allegro ma non troppo. Chai’s cleanly honed tempo feroce quite disarms us who have been perhaps too dismissive of the capability of period instruments to summon the awe in Beethoven.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich