International Record Review

Of the three sonatas in this most prevalent of couplings, only the subtitle Grande Sonate Pathétique originates with Beethoven, though the names “Moonlight” (the poet Rellstab) and “Appassionata” (the music publisher Cranz) are far from inapposite. Longafter the “Grand Sonata”, Op.13 came the Sonata in B flat major, Op.106,which he designated as Grosse Sonate für Hammerklavier, indicating the instrument for which it was intended. Les Adieux is French for “Das Lebe Wohl”, Beethoven’s own superscription to the first movement of the Sonata in E flat, Op.81a. The Waldstein, Op.53 denotes its dedicatee, while the Tempest reflects the composer’s cryptic reference to Shakespeare’s play when asked about the D minor Sonata, OP. 31 No.2. “What’s in a nickname?”

There is in fact a more significant reason for coupling the three present sonatas, in each of which Beethoven absorbed and transformed the idiom of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang. The ‘und’ between storm and stress can whisper suggestively; the svelte, diminutive C sharp major of the Trio of the concluding minor-mode Menuet in Haydn’s Piano Sonata, Hob.XVI:36 is surely the source of Beethoven’s lissom D flat major Allegretto that mediates between the outer movements of the Moonlight.

Just before I listened to these discs, a detail on the Divine Art back panel caught my attention: the final track 12 is described “as track 5 but with conventional repeat”. Since track 5 is the first movement of the Pathétique this could only mean one thing, and a quick look at Anthony Goldstone’s lucid booklet note confirmed that at the end of the first-movement exposition he repeats not just Beethoven’s main Allegro di molto e con brio, but also his entire Grave introduction. The distinguished pianist/scholar Denis Matthews evidently did this as well. After listening to Goldstone’s track 5 I immediately switched to Freddy Kempf’s Pathétique, expecting to hear the more usual repeat of the Allegro alone. But another surprise was in store, as Kempf also repeats the Grave, for which the BIS booklet note cites Artur Schnabel’s edition of the sonata as a further precedent. There is an earlier genre that casts further light on this: the French overture as perfected by J.S.Bach. There, a slow, fiery dotted-rhythm introduction is followed by a fugal Allegro, but in both the Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV830 and the ‘additional’ Partita in B minor, BWV831 (better known as the Overture in the French Manner) Bach returns to the slow introduction at the end of his first movement, providing a clear model for the repetition of the Grave in the Pathétique. To hear the latter played in this way is utterly fascinating. The difference is not so much one of duration (about a minute and a half) as of overall proportions, and whether repeating the Grave reinforces or diminishes the effect of Beethoven’s foreshortenings of it before the development and in the coda is a question for the individual listener to decide.

Both Goldstone and Kempf give an appropriately cogent performance of the Pathétique. Neither double-dots the rhythms of the Grave in baroque style – if anything , they sometimes add weight to the shorter notes with expressive effect. Kempf graphically simulates Beethoven’s fp attacks by releasing, and where necessary renewing, the pedal after a chord is struck. They are warmly lyrical in the Adagio cantabile and fleet-fingered in the Rondo, but in the Moonlight Sonata their approaches are more divergent. Goldstone plays the nocturnal Adagio sostenuto that suggested the work’s epithet with less emphasis on the ‘sostenuto’, creating the effect of a fluid improvisation. Here, Kempf is more poised and considered, but with hypnotic results, Both pianists unleash the thunder and lightning of the Appassionata, though the recording acoustic of the Divine Art can sound overly resonant in the sonata’s more vehement textures. The comparative track and two extra pieces add substance to the Goldstone recording, but either disc is worth having in its own right.

—Stephen Pruslin