Martin Roscoe

Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1: Pathétique - Opp. 10 & 13

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There is no shortage of available cycles of Beethoven's piano sonatas, but the one underway from British pianist Martin Roscoe has a couple of selling points. For one, it will eventually include Beethoven's youthful essays in the sonata genre. The cycle also uses a new edition of the sonatas edited by musicologist Barry Cooper. It's nothing groundbreaking, apparently, but with small, odd details left intact that have been smoothed over in other editions. You'll notice those in Roscoe's approach, which is both low-key and highly detailed. The booklet itself for this first volume describes Roscoe as "a respected and much loved member of the conservatoire teaching establishment," and while one doesn't want to describe his performances as pedagogical, they certainly emphasize precision and the relation of local detail to overall line rather than strong expression or novel interpretation. Roscoe's ability to articulate indivdual notes and motives in rapid or dense passages is hard to surpass. His tempos are moderately fast, and his pacing never lingers. His greatest strengths show up in the slow movements, where Beethoven's long, harmonically simple melodies take on a beautifully serene quality. The outer movements begin circumspectly and tend to build in intensity, unleashing the full dynamic range only as the movement develops. The results in the three sonatas of Op. 10 are very strong and produce intimate performances that seem to capture Beethoven's exploding creativity. The celebrated Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, "Pathétique," may be more a matter of taste; there's a lot to chew on in Roscoe's performance, but not a lot of driving intensity. The engineering from the Deux-Elles label supports Roscoe's aims perfectly, and in general the indications are good for this new Beethoven cycle.

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