Alessio Bax

Alessio Bax plays Beethoven

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Italian pianist Alessio Bax might seem to be going from weighty to airy in this Beethoven recital, with the proceedings opening with the giant Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ("Hammerklavier"), and ending up with a couple of numbers transcribed from the Ruins of Athens incidental music, Op. 113, which serve pretty much as an encore. In between is the most famous Beethoven sonata of all, the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No.2 ("Moonlight"). It receives a fine, incisive performance from Bax that is somewhat dry in the movement that caused the Romantics to give the sonata its name; Bax is trying to direct attention to the fact that the finale, with its turbulent arpeggios and off-beat accents, is reworked motivically from the opening movement. Annotator Patrick Castillo suggests that the work, far from being a mood piece unconnected with the main thread of Beethoven's development, is actually almost a programmatic reflection of Beethoven's resolution to "seize fate by the throat" in the face of his oncoming deafness, and Bax seems to embody this view. The biggest attraction, though, is the "Hammerklavier," to which Bax, almost alone among pianists, gives some free rein rhythmically in the opening movement. He takes a little bit of time, and the result is a performance that does not seem to be struggling against technical impossibility, but breathes and has some of the lyricism found in other late Beethoven works, as well as some of the tension between fixed form and improvisation implied by the bizarre introduction to the finale. It's a performance that will keep listeners guessing, and there may be some who don't care for it, but it is exciting and original. Superb sound from Britain's Wyastone Concert Hall, the country estate room so favored by concert engineers, is a major plus.

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