Hyperion monthly sampler – December 2013
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Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
Movement 3: Menuetto: Moderato e grazioso
Movement 4: Presto con fuoco
Perhaps since Beethoven had just written a glorious slow movement in the previous sonata, Op 31 No 2 (‘The Tempest’), he decided on another route for this work—and what a route it is! The Scherzo, marked Allegretto vivace, is a brilliant piece of writing for the piano, even if it makes one think of the orchestra. Its Haydn-like surprises (fortissimo chords that make you jump out of your seat) come in the middle of staccato writing that must remain very light yet incredibly precise. Not an easy feat, especially if you want to add the necessary humour.
Something else is needed before the finale, so Beethoven gives us one of his most graceful minuets (which he demands to be repeated, even on the da capo). The trio begins with some elegant leaps which, after the double bar, become more insistent, and almost get stuck like a broken record. Seventy-two years later, Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Variations on a Theme by Beethoven, Op 35, for two pianos using this trio theme as his subject (I performed Saint-Saëns’ variations several years before learning this sonata!). The eight-bar coda is a stroke of genius, quietly withdrawing from the ballroom scene.
Then what? A Presto con fuoco, of course! This finale is the reason why in some countries, mainly France, the sonata is nicknamed ‘The Hunt’ (‘La chasse’). The direction con fuoco is significant in Beethoven’s works (even if only a pretty experienced hunter could go at this speed, as Tovey rightly remarks). Yet every note in each triplet must be distinct and ever so slightly detached. The hunting theme is obvious, and propels us forward in the development section with incredible energy. As Behrend writes: ‘It races on through storm and gale, defiant and gay in its valiant assurance of its own force and strength.’ The passage towards the end where the left hand crosses over the right is treacherous. Beethoven is in his element, for sure.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2013