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Hyperion Records

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The Cathedral by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Musée Rodin, Paris / Peter Willi / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67662
Recording details: September 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: May 2010
Total duration: 26 minutes 53 seconds

'Instantly recommends itself as an important addition to the catalogue … this Beethoven disc similarly makes one marvel at the way Osborne's own personality seems able to ally itself with the composer's, in the way he illuminates aspects of style, structure and substance with clarity, subtlety and dynamism' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Osborne … has that special ability to make music that you thought you knew inside out seem fresh and totally alive' (The Guardian)

'Performances of exceptional quality … and real stature … this is an outstanding disc' (International Record Review)

'The Moonlight, Op 27 No 2 , receives a particularly satisfying performance, from the first movement's magically limpid, unhurried mysteries, through the allegretto's sprightly curtseys, to the finale, so deservedly marked presto agitato. It's in this movement that Osborne really hits the heights. He drives the notes forward, stirring excitement without succumbing to the melodramatic … the Pathétique and Waldstein sonatas receive equally refreshing and sensitive accounts. And all are recorded with Hyperion's usual finesse' (The Times)

'In the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, Osborne casts a spell from the very opening, suggesting improvisation yet also a searching harmonic rigour and beguiling the ear with subtle colour and touch' (ClassicalSource.com)

Piano Sonata in C major 'Waldstein', Op 53
composer
No 21

Allegro con brio  [10'58]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The nineteenth-century Beethoven biographer Wilhelm Lenz, whose Beethoven et ses trois styles was the first substantial study of the composer to divide his output into three stylistic periods, described the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata Op 53 as ‘a heroic symphony for piano’. Certainly, it is among the most dazzlingly brilliant of all Beethoven’s middle-period works. It is one that exploits a full range of keyboard effects, and finds the composer for the first time in his piano sonatas making use of a keyboard with an extended compass reaching up a major third higher than the five-octave range that had been in use ever since the days of Mozart and Haydn. Perhaps it is not by chance that preliminary ideas for the first movement are preceded in the composer’s sketchbooks by keyboard exercises consisting of scales in parallel tenths, and in contrary motion.

The sonata’s opening movement is largely based on the opposition between a toccata-like main subject and a broad second theme in the style of a chorale. Beethoven had tried a similar juxtaposition some seven years earlier in his Sonata Op 7, but the ‘Waldstein’ brings into play a new element of contrast: the second subject occurs in the radiant, and comparatively distant, key of E major. The remoteness of the chorale theme’s key lends it an expressive serenity it would not otherwise have achieved.

Beethoven first conceived the ‘Waldstein’ as a large-scale work in three discrete movements, but he eventually removed the middle movement (it was issued separately in September 1805, some four months after the Sonata, and became popular enough to earn itself the title of Andante favori), and in its place wrote a concentrated and dramatic introduction to the finale. Beethoven may well have felt the original Andante was stylistically old-fashioned in comparison to the remainder of the work, but the new plan heralded a general move on his part away from the concept of a sonata as consisting of three self-contained movements. Apart from the Op 79 ‘Sonatine’, the half-dozen sonatas Beethoven composed following the ‘Waldstein’ consist either of two movements only (Opp 54, 78 and 90), or—like the ‘Waldstein’—of three movements telescoped into two (the ‘Appassionata’ Op 57, ‘Les Adieux’ Op 81a).

The introduction with which Beethoven prefaces the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata’s rondo ends with a sustained, accented note G—the pitch around which the rondo theme itself is to oscillate. Underpinning that theme, and sounded before it begins, is a low C in the left hand, so that the theme’s top G is heard almost as an overtone of the bass note. Beethoven’s interest in exploiting the piano’s resonance is further shown by his pedal markings for the rondo’s theme, which require the player to hold the sustaining pedal down not only through changes of harmony, but also through alternations between major and minor.

An even more ethereal sonority seems to be indicated in the movement’s Prestissimo coda, where similar pedal markings accompany an appearance of the theme shrouded in trills. As if the trills were not enough, Beethoven brings another virtuoso device into play: pianissimo glissandos in octaves for both hands, moving in opposite directions. The effect was relatively easy to bring off on the pianos of Beethoven’s day, with their narrower keys and shallower action, but on a modern concert grand it is much less feasible to play the passages in question without a discreet redistribution of notes between the hands. In the final bars Beethoven sets the piano’s strings in vibration one last time, with a triumphant series of fanfares.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2010

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