BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight”; Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 “Waldstein” - Garrick Ohlsson, piano – Bridge

04.04.08
Garrick Ohlsson
Audiophile Audition

The Waldstein Prestissimo coda is a monster trill of 38 bars to punish Ohlsson's wrists while rewarding him some of the most colossal music at a pianist's disposal.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 "Pathetique"; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 "Moonlight"; Piano Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 "Waldstein" - Garrick Ohlsson, piano - Bridge 9250,  63:21  (Distrib. Albany) ****:

San Francisco pianist Garrick Ohlsson addresses three of Beethoven's most popular piano sonata in this, Ohlsson's Volume 5 of the complete sonatas series. The recordings, made at SUNY Purchase, 27-29 June 1995, were originally available on the Arabesque label. Ohlsson plays a Boesendorfer Imperial Grand with a tangy upper register, but its middle register is lushly mellow. Ohlsson's tempos in the opening movement of the Pathetique Sonata reminded much of those of Rudolf Serkin, as does Ohlsson's punishing staccato when he applies it liberally. Ohlsson takes the first movement repeat, which, when added to the Grave's descending chords, makes us aware of Tristan's debts to this chromatic agony.  The diatonic passages allow Ohlsson a freer notion of tempo, a relaxation he often denies this tempestuous music.  The Adagio cantabile still generates a nervous sense of space, the upward scales consistently forced downward into resignation. Like the tissue of the Adagio, the Rondo borrows materials from the first movement--what J.W.N. Sullivan calls "recoverable contexts."  Often played more as a motoric allegretto than as a full-blooded Allegro, the music under Ohlsson preserves a genteel quality, almost a placid demeanor in the face of occasionally heartfelt, personal anguish.

The C-sharp Minor Sonata quasi una fantasia exploits the ability of one repeated arpeggio to accompany itself in a sustained reverie, the form unfolding as the piece evolves. The simplest shifts of the interval move us to hope or to despair. Ohlsson indulges his capacities for legato phrasing and colored pedaling in exemplary fashion; not since Moiseiwitsch have the three descending notes at cadences felt so gently fateful. The major-key Allegretto prances gaily, a minuet that wants more boldness. The Trio's bark is worse than its actual bite, rather reminiscent of Schumann. The Presto agitato bursts forth fully armored, its rolling arpeggios derived from the opening movement, since Beethoven never wastes anything. Ohlsson's staccati are bright but not ping-ridden, as on some Steinway incursions into this music. Whirling runs and bold sforzati make their presence known, Beethoven's chromatic colors often suggesting future--and equally luxurious-- ventures by Liszt.

Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata, along with Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy, represents a composer at his most overtly virtuosic. The scale of keyboard <http://www.audaud.com/article.php?ArticleID=4039>  writing competes with an orchestra for color and diversity of texture. Rising and falling fifths mark the progression of the violent runs and episodic ebbs of this brilliantly passionate piece, heavy ostinati against glittering flourishes. Ohlsson plays the Allegro con brio with measured tempi, carefully adjusted for dramatic effect. Beethoven's penchant for breaking a long line into explosive (four-note) kernels waxes eloquent, especially as the stretti collapse upon each other and tumble into an overpowering witches' brew. The final run to the coda lands on a resounding thud. A strange, haunted universe inhabits the 26-bar Introduzione: Adagio molto, a concentrated song-form that plays off three against four. When it finally takes a relieved breath, its harmony dips once more into a velvet mist that opens upon the pedaled vistas of the finale. Ohlsson's piano becomes in turn an Aeolian harp, pounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal. The demands for ever-extended trills and hands moving in contrary motion Ohlsson clears away in huge swaths. An unearthly poise spreads across this often wild landscape, eddies of sound juxtaposed against swift octave glissandi. Then: the Prestissimo coda, a monster trill of 38 bars to punish Ohlsson's wrists while rewarding him some of the most colossal music at a pianist's disposal. High-flying, the British call this.