BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 9; Sonata No. 7 in D Major; Piano Sonata No. 30; Piano Sonata No. 31 – Awadagin Pratt, piano – EMI

by | Jun 20, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1; Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109;  Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110 – Awadagin Pratt, piano – EMI  0 26977 2, 73:45 ****:

Recorded 27-29 December 1994, these Beethoven readings–his second session for EMI–by the iconoclastic Awadagin Pratt (b. 1966) likely qualify as classics by now, each in its own way. The 1798 E Major Sonata, for instance, receives a mellow lyrical reading, rarely beset by anything “revisionist” in Pratt’s realization. The central Allegretto movement, a hybrid of minuet and soulful Andante, rings clear and forthright, the top line resonant over a transparent series of bass chords. Even the rather offbeat syncopes of the last movement Pratt executes more for their articulate coloratura and luminous polish than for mere bravura. The last two pages provide a bit an exception, given some thunderous chords and a bit of curlicue that end this often elusive work.
The 1797 D Major Sonata–a favorite of Sviatoslav Richter–finds Pratt in a literalist mood, though his pearly play deftly elevates Beethoven’s alternations of light and dark in the opening Presto, adding more than a touch of youthful exuberance.  Pratt’s motor control in the rapid passages impresses with its fluent and flexible energy. The Largo e mesto in D Minor finds Pratt’s delivering a dramatic vision of Beethoven that haunts the later development of his own style and finds echoes as far as Bartok. The successive Menuetto dispels the clouds somewhat ambivalently, though the last movement Rondo returns to a joyous humor which seems to mock the three-note wailing motif that appeared in the midst of the poignant Largo.
Pratt’s brisk treatment of the opening flurry of the 1820 E Major Op. 109 Sonata immediately cedes to a contemplatively lyrical alteration of its contrasting motifs, its jabbing upward thrusts reaching to some heightened plane that must settle for more earthly terms. Having discarded sonata-form as such, Beethoven asks Pratt to realize arpeggios and improvisatory runs with liquid poetry. Pratt infuses the striking Presto movement with fluid energy, its canonic motifs–built along the circle of fifths–ringing in short bursts and dynamic clusters. Quite gently, Pratt introduces the lovely tune that Beethoven will vary six times, the tempo shifting with each permutation. The transparent vocal quality of Pratt’s playing must be noted, especially in the first variation. The bass line and general texture thickens, and by the fifth variant we have a strict canon; and onto the last variant whose meters shifts from duple to triple to quadruple time. Yet the protean transformations return to the primal aria in a melancholy pose, Pratt’s last chord ambivalent about its confrontation with Eternity.
The 1821 A-flat Major Sonata possesses a more traditional sonata-form structure, but its delineations of sections has melted into something hazy, personal, and mystical, especially with the liberation of the trill. Beethoven has Pratt convey delicacy, amiability, and exalted nobility at once, the keyboard close to our conception of an Aeolian harp. The Allegro molto runs through a panoply of contrasting keys–F Minor, C Major and D-flat Major–yet its force and pungent moments of irony feel experimental and more pompous than tragic, as the potent Arioso dolente of the last movement proves to be. We could suspect the opening of the last movement–in recitative–to be a try-out for a string quartet setting. A terrible grief imbues the Arioso, and we construe the fugal developments to represent some strategy to deal with existential despair. Tenderly, the Arioso reasserts its primacy. Repeated chords usher in the fugue again later, only inverted, as though this might offer another form of metaphysical irony. Pratt’s is a young man’s performance, rife with enthusiasm and pondered meanings, but these Sphinx’s figures only lead to further quests.
–Gary Lemco

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