Paul Komen

Beethoven: Middle Period Sonatas Op. 53

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Recordings of Beethoven's sonatas on a historically appropriate piano are seldom encountered. This one, part of a series by Dutch pianist Paul Komen, features a piano from 1825, some two decades after the famous sonatas of Beethoven's middle period were composed. Pianos from this far along in the instrument's development sound close to later grands in many respects, but the rate of decay of a note, once sounded, is much more rapid that the modern listener is used to. The result is extreme clarity of texture, even in a big, virtuoso work like the "Waldstein" Sonata in C major, Op. 53. Hear the point a couple of minutes into the Rondo finale where Beethoven shifts into overdrive with sweeping two-octave scales in the left hand accompanying the restated theme in the right -- Komen exploits to the hilt the instrument's ability to bring out these scales. And if his interpretation of the Piano Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54, misses the scampering quality of Beethoven's humor, his "Appassionata" sonata, No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, is as intense and dramatic as one could wish, with the tinkling high notes of the instrument deployed with appropriately unearthly effect at several junctures.

The chief disadvantage of this disc as compared with, say, Komen's recording of Beethoven's last three sonatas is that the piano isn't very closely matched with the repertory here. Pianos changed rapidly over Beethoven's lifetime, and he not only soaked up technical innovations but demanded them from manufacturers, partly but not completely as a result of his encroaching deafness. A piano from 1805 rather than 1825 would have shown Beethoven really struggling against an instrument's limitations. Sample, if you can find it, a cycle by American fortepianist Malcolm Bilson and his students that uses instruments very close in time to the works played.; it's on Switzerland's Claves label. In the absence of that set, the listener will find much of interest in this very fresh set of some endlessly played Beethoven works.

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