Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
The sonority of the circa 1810 Mathias Müller Viennese fortepiano model featured on this recording crosses over into twangy harpsichord territory in loud moments, while making hauntingly muffled, almost disembodied sounds at the lowest volume. Because the sustain mechanism is nowhere near so prolonged as what we hear on modern concert grands, passages in which Beethoven asks for extended use of the damper pedal make perfect sense, giving more of the suggestion of blurring. More importantly, Andreas Staier brings a fresh voice to Beethoven’s Op. 31 sonatas and Op. 34 and 35 variation sets.
He underlines the humor in the deliberately de-synchronized “kerplopping” chords in the first movement of the G major sonata, and anchors the Adagio gracioso’s gorgeously spun-out right-hand cantabiles with strong left-hand underpinning, keeping this long movement alive and afloat. Staier resists today’s tendency toward plowing through the main section of the D minor “Tempest” sonata’s first movement, and the articulation gains definition and intensity as a result. The galloping finale may not match Ronald Brautigam’s carefree litheness, but Staier’s slower tread conveys plenty of inner tension and alluring tonal shadings. Staier also paces himself in Op. 31 No. 3’s Scherzo, where his genial manner imparts a lovely, conversational quality to the woodwind-like keyboard writing. Moderation allows Staier to make more of the melodic implications in the finale’s left-hand triplets, although Brautigam’s true Presto and slashing sforzandos are more in line with the music’s wild side.
For the most part, Staier finds sustained inspiration throughout the variation sets. He perfectly captures the diverse personalities of the Op. 34 pieces, and clearly revels in giving Variation II’s dotted rhythms just that little extra kick, while gleefully pounding out the accented chords. And he goes with the Eroica Variations’ proverbial flow, effecting coherent yet never rigid tempo relationships and constantly creating character. The wonderful canon at the octave (Variation 7) is resolutely steady, yet Staier’s subtle accentuation propels the music over the barlines. He digs into Variation 9’s rolled chords, giving them extra weight and mass, although a similar approach to Variation 13 proves relatively heavy-handed next to Brautigam’s brasher, brighter approach. And compared to Brautigam’s bracing thrust in the Fugue, Staier comes off sounding reticent and even cautious. While my fortepiano preference in this repertoire remains with Brautigam, Beethoven lovers will gain from Staier’s intelligence, insight, and individuality.
Album Title: “Ein neuer Weg”
Reference Recording: Brautigam (BIS)
- BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN:
Piano Sonatas Op. 31 Nos 1, 2, & 3; Variation on an Original Theme Op. 34; Eroica Variations Op. 35
- Andreas Staier (fortepiano)