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Schuch invites us to the bottom of Beethoven's music

18.09.2020


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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No. 8, 16, 17
Garson, “Pathetique Variations”

Pousseur “Coups de Des En Echos”
Ruprecht, Sonata in D-Minor

Herbert Schuch (piano)
Avi Music AVI8553981 (11 September 2020)
 
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Schuch invites us to discover what lies at the bottom of Beethoven’s music and bravely clashes the old-fashioned with the revolutionary and adds a bit of 20th century flavour.
 
Herbert Schuch’s latest CD is a combination of three Beethoven sonatas and another trio of 20th century works that magically relate to Beethoven’s works either by name, tonality or imagination. The CD works marvellously, as a clever combination.
 
Herbert Schuch’s excellent CD starts with the Pathetique’s maestoso introduction, executed dramatically yet calm and thoughtful, thus making the Allegro come almost as a surprise in its vivacity. His sparing use of forte brings out the sforzandos neatly and there is a beauty in the way he sustains the tempo and builds up the drive. The combination of Beethoven’s exactly executed dynamic markings and Schuch’s tempo choice truly do justice to the revolutionary aspect of this work. The serenity of the slow movement creates  a sincere feeling of youthfulness that balances the outer movements impeccably. Indeed, the most remarkable playing on the disc may be the last movement of the Pathetique where Schuch uses an exquisite piano throughout, something that few pianists dare. The rare fortes come as bursts of fire in opposition to some beautiful cantando as in bars 43 to 50 of the last movement. The feeling one has at the end of the sonata is as if you always wanted to hear it this soft and this was the first time.
 
As the sleeve notes confirm, Schuch loves to find the human voice in Beethoven and this is evident best in the Op. 31 no. 1 in G-major sonata. Schuch brings out the coloratura mannered love and irony that Brendel always championed to bring out in this sonata, as a true heritage of the latter’s aesthetics. Being somewhat old-fashioned myself, I was upset by the decision not to execute the first reprise in this first movement. I cannot see the musical reason to omit this, when all other reprises remain and the repeated material at the beginning seems essential to the build-up. Noteworthy in this movement is the change from major to minor in the closing section of the first movement avoids all abruptness and paves the way for the perfectly articulated Adagio. Here imn the second movement, the listener should notice the atmosphere and layers of expression created by the staccatos versus the slurs, the embellishments versus the bass and the countless variants of a singing line versus the speaking one.  These jointly give the character of this movement as not mere irony but truly romantic and tragic. This is the longest movement/track in the CD and this is where Schuch is at the height of his expressive powers to maintain the drama up until the last chord. The slightly less impressive last movement ends very well though, once again preparing us for the next sonata.
 
The summit of Schuch’s love for the operatic in Beethoven is certainly the beginning of The Tempest. Schuch feels so at ease as he combines the operatic recitativo with the passionate drives lunging forward, always paying attention to the intensity of his crescendos, thus building the structure Beethoven is after. The slow movement is executed similar to the preceding sonata and not only is this stylistically consistent but also the only way to reach the last movement. Similar to the end of the Pathetique, the delicate piano of the last movement reigns throughout with his soaring fortes perfectly characterising one of those passionate Beethoven movements. How Schuch balances the outer movements is a genuine success.
 
The three Beethoven sonatas are accompanied by three 20th century compositions. Mike Garson’s Pathetique Variations is the ideal postlude to Beethoven’s 8th Sonata in C-minor; do read Schuch’s own remarks on this piece which make it sound more meaningful than a mere reminiscence of the theme from the slow movement of the original piece. Pousseur’s Coups de Des en Echos, dedicated to John Cage, is a more daring work but works well between Beethoven’s revolutionary and so-called “old fashioned” 16th Sonata in G-major. Of all these, however, it is Ruprecht’s D-minor sonata to conclude the CD in top form with the D-minor chord ringing in our ears, that is shocking and revealing at the same time.
 
All in all, this is an exciting addition to this year’s Beethoven discography with the ideal balance between what is modern and revolutionary as opposed to what is classic in Beethoven and one can only hope to hear Schuch in more Beethoven.
 
Feyzi Erçin

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