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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Leslie Tung, Beethoven, Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 8 & 13


Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 and if I did not mark the 250th anniversary of it last month in truth I celebrate it often enough by experiencing his music in my life continually ever since at around 13 years of age I came upon his Eroica. Here today and tomorrow however I will mark the anniversary anyway. Today there is pianist Leslie Tung doing the Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 8 and 13 (MSR Classics MS 1733), 14 of course known as the "Moonlight Sonata" and 8 as the "Pathetique." 

The first thing that sets this apart from others is the fact that Maestro Tung makes use of a pianoforte built by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti in 1983. It is based on a c.1795 instrument by Johan Lodewijk Dulcken, Munich. The date and province of the instrument means that it is one hopes characteristic of the sound of the pianos Beethoven played and composed upon in his prime. Of course the pianos from that period have a quieter and sweeter sound to them in general, making the pianissimo passages more delicate and fragile, the fortissimo passages less clangorous. I am no expert as to the hows and whys of such things but the less tempered tunings of period instruments is not a large factor in this particular reconstruction. Yet there is still a sort of shimmering sound to the notes, especially mid-register. And so much the better for it.

Leslie Tung gives us poetic readings of all three sonatas, readings that make creative and very musical use of the characteristics of the period-style piano. Listen to the adagio cantabile movement from Sonata 8 and you will be treated to a beautiful synergy of artist and instrument. 

The misted mooniness of the opening movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" is also a rather remarkable melding of artist and piano. I cannot help but imagine that Ludwig would have approved. Maestro Tung has plenty of technique on display throughout, but the emphasis is on the actually sounding, the bringing to bear of the notes as Beethoven himself might have imagined them played when he wrote each sonata. What an extraordinary artist was this Beethoven, we inevitably think as we hear Maestro Tung put all three sonatas through their paces with care, imagination, reflectiveness and dash. Listen to the last movement of the Moonlight Sonata for the uncanny synchronicity of artist and instrument, the slight rubato to emphasize the inner connectedness and the heroics of the brilliant passagework. It all makes sense.

In Nietzsche terms these readings are more Apollonian than Dionysian. And nicely the better for that. You may not come away from this program thinking "what an amazing pianist." It is more "what an interestingly faithful representation of Beethoven." 

I am glad to hear and have this one. I reminds me of course of the very happy part of birthday 250! Give this one a hearing. Recommended.

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