Classical CD Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Sonatas No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110; No. 32 in c, Op. 111; C.P.E. BACH: Prelude, Variations, and Fugue in d; Fantasia and Rondo in A – Cameron Watson, piano – MSR Classics

An interesting linkage here, but I am not sure the premise behind this disc is entirely successful.

Published on May 1, 2013

BEETHOVEN: Sonatas No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110; No. 32 in c, Op. 111; C.P.E. BACH: Prelude, Variations, and Fugue in d; Fantasia and Rondo in A – Cameron Watson, piano – MSR MS 1409, 79:39 [Distr. by Albany] ***1/2:

The pieces by CPE Bach are not actually his idea—they were created by compiling several pieces together to form a larger more extended work. Not that this is a bad thing; the composer himself would probably have been happy with such an idea, and these lovely and characteristically tightly-wound works give us all the storm and stress that we like to hear from this composer, intensely personal music that betrays no lack of feeling, meant to penetrate very directly the listener’s affection. I won’t go into the detail given in the notes about how the particular pieces here were linked up to form these larger compositions, but suffice it to say that the rationale is completely convincing.

Also convincing is the idea that the DNA for CPE’s work finds itself transferred all the way to Beethoven, who we are led to believe received it through his teacher Haydn, in the manner that JC Bach’s essence creeps into the work of Mozart, making the two styles dissimilar in substance. Personally I do not think that this sort of simplification really works; one can hears mountains of CPE’s thought processes in Mozart’s music as well as the more structured and “balanced” music of JC Bach in the works of Beethoven. Here that sort of argument, posited by Mr. Watson, breaks down. But if we are simply pointing out that the rigors and terseness of CPE Bach found its way into the music of Beethoven, point taken.

Whether the last two piano sonatas of Beethoven prove this is also debatable, though I must say that Watson plays the pieces in a manner to make his case. Whether this sort of stringent, and rather mechanical Beethoven really reflects the true intention of the composer I cannot say. I have heard performances like this before, which tend to wind up and almost play themselves in a manner befitting the scholar rather than the poet, and in many cases—as here—the results can be satisfactory. But Beethoven without a hefty dose of poetry in the end lacks something, and I come away from these readings feeling technically satisfied but emotionally a little vapid. The approach works well in the CPE Bach pieces, but his is an art where much of the emotion is contained in the technique itself, such was his particular genius, and Beethoven left more room for interpretative largesse than almost any other romantic composer.

A smaller and more compact piano is used for the Bach works, and a nine foot Steinway for the Beethoven, but the articulation and general sonic ambiance seems very similar to me in each composer’s performances. Sound is clear and clean, with a lot of balance in the stereo spectrum.

—Steven Ritter




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