A very interesting disc. Many will say, ‘Do we need another disc of these famous sonatas?’ There are many good recordings available and, incidentally, some thoroughly inadequate ones. … some of which are played by international pianists.
I was a little troubled by the recorded sound at times in the first movement of the Moonlight and there is some unusual rubato. I did not quite follow the logic of some of the tempi changes. Goldstone’s approach is not classical but romantic. He succeeds in the middle movement of the Moonlight often wrongly called a minuet. This performance is not feeble as often is the case. He presents it as a Ländler and introduces some humour which devotees of the minuet would not have appreciated. The finale is the only successful music in this sonata and the only movement in sonata form with the second subject in G sharp minor. It is a real concertante movement something of a witches sabbath. The cadenza passages are stirring but again I felt that the piece should have been more like a whirlwind than high winds. Beethoven makes the mistake of lessening the tempo at times and thus hindering the continuity as he does, for example, in the finale of the masterly Symphony no. 4. This movement is played with passion by Goldstone and sometimes with anger, reminding us that the piano is a percussion instrument. He makes the contrast between the dreamy slow movement and the tremendous finale very pronounced. There is a lot of heart in this playing and terrifying explosions. It may not suit everyone but it is fascinating. Beethoven kept falling in love with girls and women of noble birth. The Countess Giulietta Guicciardi is the dedicatee of this sonata composed in 1801. She was about sixteen at the time and Beethoven was thirty.
Ignaz Moscheles is an underrated composer in his own right. Here he takes one of the four overtures to Fidelio, the others being Leonora numbers 1, 2 and 3, and makes it into a transcription for solo piano. Moscheles was 24 years younger than Beethoven and survived him by 43 years. This is a labour of love and such noble transcriptions are of great value, not the least being the study of the work by playing it oneself. It appears that Beethoven suggested this arrangement to Moscheles and was delighted with the result. Moscheles settled in London and was responsible for the first British performance of the Missa Solemnis in 1832 – a decent recorded performance of which we really need at the moment.
The Pathetique sonata is a better work than the Moonlight structurally and the slow introduction is an amazing piece full of all emotions from anger and power to tenderness. The brisk main allegro is well caught in Goldstone’s performance with an excellent choice of tempi and a brave choice too. The cross hand passages are usually awkward but not here, and fitting in those nuisances of mordents is well captured. The drama is not excessive as is the failure of some pianists. The word ‘pathetic’, of course, comes from the word ‘pathos’ and Goldstone realises this very well. He reveals Beethoven’s heart, and it was a good one, with all its turmoil and unrequited love. It is not said often enough that Beethoven wrote some very lovely and romantic music. Goldstone’s playing enables you to feel both Beethoven’s suffering and pain and his joy, something he was always seeking and which inspired the finale of the Choral Symphony. The other characteristic of Goldstone’s playing is the delightful tripping style depicting the innocent devilment of the composer. He structures the movement to perfection.
The slow movement has been savaged by comedians like Ken Dodd and pop groups and that angers me. I would like to see these great works untouched. Goldstone plays this movement in a matter of fact style which I admire. Too many people play it as sticky toffee – what in stage shows is called ‘milking it’. Some may prefer a more cantabile tone but as absolute music it works well. His left hand arpeggios are secure and sinister. The colour in this performance is admirable. The movement is not a pretty and lush piece but dark, perhaps stark and that is how it should be played. But it seldom is; it is here, though.
The rondo finale is not as easy as some make out. Again Goldstone has a good choice of tempo and he brings out some of Beethoven’s fascinating harmonies which can only be appreciated fully by musicians themselves. I love the way Goldstone eases into the main theme when it returns. Again Beethoven has a few slower passages which hinder continuity.
The variations on God save the King are not trivial but very clever. Beethoven was a master at most things including variations. The problem is that the tune is trite and only the prejudiced would deny that pompous over-dignified tunes are somewhat lacking. Stiff and stuffy music, Boult called it. However, Beethoven liked the tune and when he turns it into a march-like theme it works. In one of the gentle variations the harmonies are both remarkable and choice.
The Appassionata is an intrigue. I believe Beethoven still had Giulietta Guiccardi in mind, or some other female above his station; poor man, he was unlucky in love. Clearly he adored many young women and unrequited love is the most bitter pill to swallow.
This is very difficult sonata to play not only technically but structurally. See how Beethoven starts it with an arousal of his feeling, the bass heart-beats and sheer excitement before that tune being first tender then angry. The felicitous high music and rumbling bass heart-beats lead into that luscious theme. And, my, how Goldstone brings out the passion. The excitement mounts into a frenzy of love with passionate pyrotechnics. This pianist has really caught it. Beethoven is in turmoil again with all sorts of thoughts pervading his mind. I repeat he was a man with a heart and it was a good one. How would his life have changed if he had married? And if the marriage had been happy?
The heartbeats pound away. One wishes one could go back to 1806 and solve Beethoven’s private life but not until after this masterpiece was complete. Very impressive both from Beethoven and Goldstone!
When one encounters such a great movement one wonders if the rest of the work can match it. The slow movement has a rather introspective but simple theme in two parts and a set of variations which eventually ascends from the depths to the higher range of the piano. There is glitter and that dark hue of the slow movement of the Pathetique. Here, again, Goldstone triumphs with his profound understanding of the music; no mean feat.
In fact, it is probably true to say that only those of us who play these masterworks really can evaluate performances of them. Take another example: Goldstone’s chords are so even and you hear all the notes. I can think of one or two so-called great pianists where this does not happens.
A fate theme seems to hurl us into the finale which eventually sounds like a torrential rain-storm. It is fearsomely difficult to play on many counts, but Goldstone is man enough for it. Again Beethoven’s good heart is shown. The theme has the character of persistence, of not giving up and an optimism which Beethoven is seldom acknowledged as having. The pianist here brings a variety of colour to the movement. The final presto section is music in overdrive.
The final track is the opening movement of the C minor sonata but with the ‘conventional’ repeat. I do not want to breach copyright and so I will leave you to read Goldstone’s notes which accompany the disc.