Stewart Goodyear

Beethoven: The Late Sonatas

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Late Beethoven for the punk era? Maybe not, but young Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear's interpretations of Beethoven's last four piano sonatas are forceful and intentionally almost inexpressive, and they're somehow of a piece with his shaved head (which is all to the good). Goodyear deserves all kinds of credit for thinking out his own interpretations of these works from the ground up. He takes everything at a brisk clip, and at some points this can come as quite a surprise: the giant Adagio sostenuto slow movement of the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106, "Hammerklavier," despite the fact that Goodyear in his own booklet notes finds "screaming sobs" in the music, verily breezes by and comes in at under 15 minutes (on many recordings it pushes 25). As with any really unusual interpretation there are strong points and weak points, and the "Hammerklavier" is among the former. In many cycles this giant work seems to stand by itself, a chill monument in stone that sharply contrasts with the more lyrical tone of the other late sonatas. Here, with all the fast movements pushed hard, the "Hammerklavier" is the apotheosis of them all, and the shorter works seem to explore one or more of the issues it raises. Goodyear's performance of this most difficult of all of Beethoven's piano works is spectacular. He builds up tremendous momentum in the opening movement and finale, and there's an X factor here that convinces you Beethoven would have wanted the effect of technical mastery of very thorny material that emerges here. Elsewhere, Goodyear pursues big contrasts between the more lyrical movements and the bigger and more contrapuntal ones. The opening movement of the Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, is evanescently tossed off like a Schumann character piece. In the Piano Sonata No. 31 in A major, Op. 110, Goodyear takes the various embedded recitative-like passages almost as written. In the variation finales of the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, and Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, he stretches out a bit but keeps the basic pulse of the music always in view. You may not like everything Goodyear does, and there's a certain sense of missing subtlety, but these are refreshing performances that strip away a lot of accumulated layers of interpretation. Booklet notes, unusually enough for a Canadian release, are in English only. The album is aided by fine sound, recorded at the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.

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