BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest”; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” – Ingrid Fliter, piano – EMI 0 94573 2, 72:58 ****:
Recorded between late December 2010 and middle–January 2011, these three minor-key Beethoven sonatas bring out the dramatist in this Argentine pianist as well as in the music of Beethoven. Fliter has already proven her dexterity in the music of Chopin; here, she applies her digital grasp of the Beethoven group as expressions of Beethoven’s capacity for those “recoverable contexts” that well define his especial genius. This definition–courtesy of J.W.N. Sullivan–directly affects the 1799 Pathetique Sonata, whose last movement, coming after some hiatus, assumes the materials of the prior movements without any discernible break in continuity. Fliter takes the repeat in the first movement after having already invested considerable weight into the opening Grave section whose motifs virtually define the entire development. She then projects that ethos wherein Beethoven’s pained chromaticism contrasts to the diatonism of his will. The A-flat Major Adagio cantabile indeed sings as required, Fliter’s sonority relaxed and light-handed. Her triplets that conclude the movement enjoy a particularly tender inflection. The elegant C Minor Rondo ties both prior movements into its brilliant fabric, and the sforzandi warn us against structural complacency. Once more, Fliter’s triplet figures gain both lucidity and poise that imbue this Beethoven with a demure power.
The so-called “Tempest” Sonata of 1802 always confirms my own assessment of the Beethoven sonatas as “experiments in Vulcan’s laboratory.” The broken chord at the opening and its delay of the tonic D Minor have become standard Beethoven procedures, not to mention the often diametrically opposed tempos required of the performer. Three major motifs intertwine in the course of the first movement, each of which proceeds via minute transformations of its roots, often in two measures. Fliter allows the step-wise nature of the secondary motives to gain inflamed, even militant, aggressive power. On the other hand, her suspensions prove equally dramatic, allowing huge spatial gaps in the line that will explode or turn dramatically when Beethoven sees fit, often utilizing a diminished seventh chord or Neapolitan harmonies. The B-flat Major Adagio–broadly conceived by Fliter–transforms elements from the opening arpeggio into a warm but enigmatic context, with double-dotted motifs or drumming effects that seem to respond to a recitative-style of keyboard discourse. Fliter’s liquid perpetuum mobile last movement Allegretto projects grace and finesse into Beethoven’s eddying arpeggios, often beguiling us with that “Aeolian harp” we relish in the G Major Concerto.
The 1804 Appassionata Sonata in F Minor has been an old companion, from my old Edwin Fischer 78 rpm recording through he 10” Claudio Arrau LP to the innumerable traversals by every major keyboard artist, among whom Sviatoslav Richter and Rudolf Serkin still dominate. Rife with its own version of “Fate”–in the guise of three D-flats and C–the work no less exploits Neapolitan harmonies that play off the D-flat Major secondary theme in the first movement. The bass line–with its low F, Beethoven’s lowest note on the instrument of his own time–no less proves dynamically poignant, especially when juxtaposed against the Scottish folk melody that provides the basis of the main tune. Fliter rather coaxes than demands the melos of the first movement to progress in neat episodes towards its inevitable muscular coda whose stretti quite compel us to listen and wonder. The lovely Andante’s D-flat Major theme-and-four variations proceed nobly, benefiting from a direct simplicity of statement, unostentatious but subtlety shifting their accents and timbres. Fliter’s pedaling in the 16th note variation two communicates a loving intimacy worth hearing. Perpetual motion and poetically improvisational bravura mark the final movement, unusual in Beethoven’s oeuvre for its maintenance of the tragic muse. The periodic cadenzas and Neapolitan 6ths that appear in no way soften the onward, inexorable, stamping rush to judgment. Fliter’s enunciation of these grand gestures remains lithe, stoical, pellucid, and eminently convincing.
— Gary Lemco
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