The seriousness of purpose that suited the Nicholas Angelich’s first contribution to this Beethoven piano sonata series rather undermined his second recital (to be broadcast on 20 December). Beethoven dedicated the three Opus 2 sonatas to Haydn, who was in the audience for a private performance of them. There are moments when you can easily fantasise the older composer thinking “I wish I’d done that” in response to their flagrant brilliance, drama and wit, particularly so in the light-hearted A major work.
This wasn’t uppermost in Angelich’s performance: the first movement didn’t sound very vivacious, neither in tempo nor in attitude, and the arresting opening figure, which marshalls the music rather like a dog rounds up sheep, has much more going for it in terms of peremptory gruffness than Angelich admitted. It was a touch too spacious for music that should be explosively hyperactive. Angelich overplayed rubato
in the slow movement, draping it with a grandeur that compromised Beethoven’s more subjective appassionato
direction, but he hit his stride in his generous reading of the gracious finale.
The nagging feeling that Angelich was pitching his performance to a much bigger audience than St Luke’s didn’t go away in the Opus 31 Sonata. Beethoven’s joke with the dislocated chords of the opening can certainly wear a bit thin, but there’s a mock-stern mischief in the way he then applies some corrective precision that Angelich didn’t pick up on. It’s also probably Beethoven’s most garrulous sonata, with a host of thematic characters clamouring for recognition and with slightly over-extended link passages and codas that both justify the prolixity and join in with it. Angelich signalled this a bit too vividly at the expense of some sophisticated irony. The increasing elaboration of the left-hand accompaniment to the slow movement’s main theme was cleverly layered in music that showed-off Angelich’s fluid, lyrical style, but the sense of an almost operatic self-indulgence and over-exaggeration didn’t make itself felt in the barrage of decoration.