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These masterpieces seem to work on old/period instruments, if not definitely

09.02.2015


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Beethoven: Diabelli Variations, Piano Sonata No. 32, 6 Bagatelles * * * *
Andras Schiff (piano)
ECM
 
These masterpieces seem to work on old/period instruments, if not definitely
 
The double CD opens with Beethoven’s last piano sonata, played on the 1921 Bechstein. What does not work here is the maestro opening. What does, surprisingly, work is the wonderful transition from the opening to the first movement’s main theme. The accents on the road there, and the bass tremolo provides for a mysterious effect. And actually, that misterioso style continues in the first movements, but you never reach those moments where Beethoven creates a white heat and extreme tension. There the Bechstein sounds insufficient. A similar insufficiency is hinted at the colourless repeated chords, approaching the finale, but not where the piece ends peacefully. The second movement does not start so well laid out in Bechstein’s comparatively dry tone, but with the accents increased, it gets better and better and in the more intimate sections, where the lines between decorations and melody blur, it is this instrument and Schiff’s mastering of it that makes the difference. The second movement is loveable indeed as it opens up to the radiantly executed trills and closes off poignantly. As far as the Diabelli Variations are concerned too, the Bechstein is without doubt the better option. Needless to say, Schiff’s effort is not to compete the two instruments, but the average listener will be tempted to do so. Particularly in the semiquavers and similar notations, the Bechstein’s control yields marvellous results. Compared to that, the 1820 fortepiano stands no comparison. To me, it is basically vulgar and unmusical, but connoisseurs may well disagree. However, especially if you compare the last few variations of this masterpiece, you will understand the big difference and easily decide whether or not to get this CD. A well played Beethoven CD, as interesting for historic reasons as musical ones.

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