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Fazil Say - Beethoven Piano Sonatas (2020)

Fazil Say BeethovenPianoSonatas

Beethoven 250 birth year celebrations

pianist Fazil Say has extended his Beethoven discography with the complete set of Piano Sonatas. This will undoubtedly be compared to Igor Levit’s impressive cycle for Sony, reviewed on these pages a few months back. If the Levit set was marked by impressive consistency of approach and tone, this set is marked by musical contrasts.

 

Fazil Say BeethovenPianoSonatas1 Fazil Say BeethovenPianoSonatas2

 

Those familiar with Fazil Say’s pianism in concerts and on discs won’t be surprised; He is often compared to Glenn Gould in his sometimes unconventional interpretations, but one must admit that the pianist’s choices here are a cause for a debate, rather than outrage. He is taking particular pleasure of following Beethoven’s instructions to a T, and so many phrases contain an almost comical effect just because of Say’s literal obedience to the score. Listen, for example, to Op. 27 No. 1 first movement. The opening phrase is executed with the first chords played Staccato, which may feel as interfering with the movement’s singing quality, yet reading the score shows that this is what Beethoven wrote. The question here, as in other places in this cycle, is where do pianists need to employ some common sense? Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, still developing some of the notation system we now today, were all using Staccato markings on single notes in long phrases. Did they always want them to be played so short, or was this a sort of emphasis to remind the pianist to retain clarity?

On the other side of the spectrum, Say’s slow movements are quite free in their approach, with left-hand chords played broken and bass notes played a split second before the bar – a habit reminiscent of 19th century and early 20th-century pianism. Some will find this anachronistic, but I for one found it utterly enchanting. Indeed, the slow movements in the cycle, especially in the early Sonatas, show superb pianism, though they don’t always sit comfortably with other movements in the same Sonata.

Another special feature of Say’s interpretations is the tempo choices of the Finales. Rather surprisingly (but not completely different from Andras Schiff’s cycle), Tempi are measured and articulated with special care, most notable in the pieces before the three Op. 31 Sonatas. And so the famous Finale of Op. 13 (“Pathétique”) is given a charming rather than hectic overview, and the Finale of Op. 27 No. 2 (“Moonlight”) is impressive in its clarity and multilayered approach.

Say’s interpretations didn’t change noticeably from his previous Beethoven recording, all successful; He already recorded “The Tempest”, “Waldstein” “Appassionata” and Op. 111 before – though re-listening to the early attempts shows that Say rethought some elements and in general is more reserved in his dynamic outbursts and tempo choices. The “Appassionata”, already impressive in Say’s previous attempt (Mirare, 2005), is even better communicated here, and is one of the biggest successes of the cycle.

bought HD 24/96 files: www.prestomusic.com

 

Review: Tal Agam - January 31, 2020 the classic review

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