Recorded at the Gardner Museum, Boston, September 2004, this set of five sonatas justifies Andrew Rangell’s repute as a Beethoven acolyte of individual power and concentration. That Rangell cites Beveridge Webster as his mentor and doctoral advisor speaks volumes. Rangell has his own ideas about tempos, for instance, in the Allegretto of the D Minor Sonata, whose moto perpetuo Rangell takes at a moderate tempo which accentuates the nervous agogics, the metric asymmetries and syncopations of the music’s eventual acceptance of Fate. Even the opening movement of the amiable F Major Sonata of Op. 14 reveals any number of surprise effects, such as the repression of the downbeat, along with metrical ambiguities in the finale. What Rangell brings is a fresh look at Beethoven’s capacity for wit and invention, as well as his usual willfulness.
The E Major Sonata communicates a coy charm and naivete; Gina Bachauer had a persuasive vision of this tender piece. Rangell finds in its clever polyphony an assertiveness that points to Beethoven’s later evolution. I particularly enjoy Rangell’s way with the Op. 78 F# Major Sonata, a work I first learned to savor via Robert Goldsand and Egon Petri. The combination of lyricism and structural compression adumbrates the Op. 101 A Major Sonata in several respects, not the least of which is its understated tunefulness. The E Minor Sonata, like the F# Major, emanates a Schubertian pathos, but here the application of counterpoint thickens the texture, especially in the permutations of the descending triad motif. The radiant theme of the rondo moves among the piano’s various registers, all moving through thinning textures to a finale that half smiles, half sighs. Schnabel found the emotional disposition of this protean work perpetually elusive, and Rangell’s solutions are only some of many possibilities. Intriguing and aurally compelling, the disc shows off the Hamburg Steinway D to advantage, courtesy of engineer Thomas Stephenson. Recommended.