James Lisney at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas

Piano Sonata No.30 in E, Op.109
Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat, Op.110
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111

James Lisney (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 November, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

James LisneyIt was just over a year ago that James Lisney concluded a recital at The Red Hedgehog with a complete performance of Opus 109, which was offered as a remarkable encore. At this Wigmore Hall concert, following the last three of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas, Lisney played, I believe, the last two movements of Haydn’s final sonata (in E flat, Hoboken 52). From there came Beethoven!

Lisney’s wholeness of approach to all three of Beethoven’s triptych of sonatas gave each an integrity that satisfied the whole without denuding the works’ spiritual qualities. From the opening movement of Opus 109 – craggy and restless – to the Theme and Variations that concludes Opus 111 – here increasingly busy to jazzy exuberance and with an intriguing and inevitable distillation to the final chord – Lisney’s always-musical accounts may not have been as heroic or as recess-searching as some, but there was a clarity and a thoughtfulness that made for many rewards.

Plenty of athletic vigour, too, not least in the second-movement scherzos of Opuses 109 and 110. Allowing that the opening movement of Opus 111 was less than arresting, the development section brought some of Lisney’s fieriest playing (and the second movement some memorably light and mysterious entreaties). Opus 110’s inviting phrases and solemn processions were also compelling in their realisation (the ultimate coda clear and forceful), yet it was the finale of Opus 109 that was altogether special, the wondrous Theme unaffected and meaningful, the Variations fully diverse, and the return of the Theme simply made as if it had never gone away.

One keenly anticipates James Lisney’s recordings of these milestone works appearing on Woodhouse Editions.

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