Thursday, 23 January 2014

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, January 2014)

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas
Harmonia Mundi 902138 / ****1/2

The four very varied piano sonatas on this recording, which cover different periods of Beethoven’s output, appear unrelated. They are however united by the fact that each of their final movements are “perpetual motions”, as the title of the disc suggests. The idea of constant movement appealed to composers, translating to virtuoso studies which never seem to end while taxing the performer to the utmost. Two such perpetual motions close the Sonatas in A flat major (Op.26), which paradoxically follows a funeral march, and in F major (Op.54), one of Beethoven’s shorter sonatas.

The Appassionata Sonata in F minor (Op.57), an obvious candidate, is not included. In its place is the Tempest Sonata in D minor (Op.31 No.2), the finale of which is a slightly slower variant, an eternal spinning wheel that has seemingly no beginning or end. Even less expected is the closing movement of the Sonata in E minor (Op.90), which is a leisurely Schubertian song without words. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes is a most persuasive and imaginative advocate who makes this music sound positively vital.    

THUILLE Violin Music
Naxos 8.572870 / ****1/2

If one has enjoyed the violin sonatas of Brahms or Richard Strauss and hanker for more lush romantic melodies, a further step would be to investigate the music of Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907). The little-known Austrian composer was born in Bolzano, Italy but studied in Munich where he became closest friends with Strauss. While the latter became world famous, Thuille died prematurely of heart failure and in obscurity.

Twenty-four years separate his two violin sonatas, but both are stylistically conservative in idiom. The shorter First Sonata in D minor (1880) has a substantial opening movement, followed by three shorter movements, reliving the folksy spirit of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata without imitating it. The more mature Second Sonata in E minor (1904) plumbs more deeply, with an impish scherzo-like finale to provide contrasts.

Serving like an encore, Thuille’s Allegro Giusto (1906) plays like a carefree country dance. The excellent Italian duo of Marco Rogliano and Gianluca Luisi give totally committed performances, full of passion and spirit, which deserve many listens.

No comments: