Daniel Barenboim – Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle (7)

Piano Sonata in G, Op.31/1
Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2 (Quasi una fantasia – Moonlight)
Piano Sonata in F, Op.10/2
Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.110

Daniel Barenboim (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 15 February, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Daniel Barenboim. Photograph: Monika Rittershaus/TeldecFor the penultimate concert in his exploration of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, Daniel Barenboim picked four works of a less conventional formal design, and with them offered a chance to enjoy the composer’s sense of humour, which was not always as evident as it might have been. For sure the pianist captured the lightly comedic finish to the first movement of the G major Sonata from Opus 31, and subsequently its finale, but elsewhere his phrasing was clipped and syncopation laboured rather than amusing.

In the second of the Opus 10 set the second movement Allegretto made more of a mark than perhaps it should, which had much to do with Barenboim’s structural interpretation. The first movement – described rather loftily by programme-note writer William Kinderman as “anti-teleological” (refuting natural purpose or design) – seemed to serve as the first part of an elongated scherzo, with the Allegretto functioning as its trio. Within that first movement the theme at least retained its impish nature, even if further opportunities to express the composer’s humour were left relatively unexplored.

The so-called ‘Moonlight’ Sonata (the name added by the poet Rellstab) – the second of the Opus 27 pair of sonatas that Beethoven entitled ‘Quasi una fantasia’ – offers no opportunities for jovial asides, but has its own unusual design. Here Barenboim successfully weighted its impact to the devilish whirlwind of the closing Presto agitato, which felt like a chilly wind through trees, particularly after the soft, straight delivery of the arpeggios that make the famous (or infamous!) opening movement. The fact that Barenboim brought this well beyond the familiar spoke much for his presence at the piano, and though a barrage of coughs marred the second movement, the pianist was undeterred.

It seems extraordinary to note that just four years separate Opus 10 and the revolutionary trio of sonatas making up Opus 31, written in 1802. Even more so to the penultimate Sonata, Opus 110, which dates from 1821, though the feeling here was that its form as portrayed by Barenboim was somewhat lopsided – that the final A flat major affirmation had not been sufficiently hard won.

This may have been the result of a strident second movement – Kinderman was at pains to highlight its humour, but there was little of that here. Rather, Barenboim put the stress on the short Adagio, and the build up to the fugal subject carried substantial weight. The Fugue took its rightful place as the climax of the evening, textures emerging with beautiful clarity, the subjects easy to follow as they moved between registers. The swift arrival of the close was perhaps as much a reminder of Beethoven’s structural innovations, which remain daring to this day, and Barenboim succeeded in getting us to think about them.

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