A noble artist to the manner born

Beethoven composed his Sonata No. 4 when he was 27 years old. One would think that this work, catalogued as Opus 7 would be a less-than-mature effort from a still-young composer. But in point of fact, the Eb major Piano Sonata – Beethoven’s fourth – is as fully-formed a work as his Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, his last, given the opus number 111 and completed over two decades later in 1822, when the composer was in his early fifties and already in health and appearance an old man.

Dedication of a composition often informs a musical work, and the lengthy opus 7, was one of three works dedicated to the former Countess Anna Louise Barbara Keglevich (the E-flat major piano sonata Op. 7 and an inconsequential set of variations on a theme of Salieri the other two). A piano student of Beethoven’s acquired while he was visiting her family in Bratislava, the young beauty, aged sixteen was already married to Prince Innocenz Odescalchi and highly esteemed as a formidable pianist. Thus the composer could only admire her, dedicate music to her and little else.

The nearly half hour in length Opus 7, given the subtitle of Grand Sonata is a marvelous construct that has little in common with the late Classicism of Haydn, other than its classical four movement structure. Other than that this is a work of genius by a Beethoven ready to be heard in his own terms. The sudden dynamic outbursts, the unpredictable changes of tempi and mood, and the surprising character of its harmonic shifts foretell more novel things to come.

The eleven bagatelles of Opus 119 were composed by Beethoven over a period of thirty years. Light in character and brief in duration they provide, as programmed in this CD a refreshing change of mood – bookended by the intensity of the sonatas that begin and end the recording.

Written between 1821 and 1822, the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor was dedicated to the composer’s patron, Archduke Rudolf.  Consisting of only a take it or leave it two movements – a stately opening Maestoso and a second one structured as an elegant air with variations – this monumental work reveals Beethoven at his most iconoclastic: a deaf genius hearing the Sturm und Drang of his soul inside his brain and soul and giving it musical shape in abrupt, even blunt music replete with suddenly tempestuous changes and tempered by small oasis of great delicacy.

Throughout the duration of this unique album made up of archival performances dating back a number of years and just released this February, pianist Antoinette Perry reminds both those familiar with her prodigious gifts and those of us to whom this Navona album introduces her of her preeminence as an important Beethoven specialist – one gifted at the pleasures of nuance, an artist equipped with a solid technique, and one completely willing to subordinate eccentricities of interpretation to Beethoven’s superior musical quirks.

Written fairly late in the composer’s career, with an opus number of 111, the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor is the last of Beethoven’s major works for the piano. The German writer Thomas Mann spoke of this work as a “farewell” to the sonata form, that description having to do more with Mann’s subjective perception than fact, since after this, Beethoven had much left to say when it came to works for the keyboard. In reality Beethoven had quite a few inspired creations left, when perhaps wanting to be free of the Classical constraints that his predecessors Haydn and Mozart worked with, he penned eleven Bagatelles and assigned to them the opus number 119.

Contrary to the trifling meaning of the word “bagatelle” the eleven little works in opus 119, some as short as 18 seconds, none longer than three minutes show both substance and humor in addition to sheer inspiration.

In her insightfully written liner notes, Antoinette Perry writes. “Can one ever tire of Beethoven?” Never, not when so sensitively played as in the hands of this fine pianist, say I!

Antoinette Perry’s album Beethoven Bookends (nv6331) for Navona Records, released earlier this year and recorded in 2005, 2008, and 2009 shows the notable American pianist in fine form: elegant in opus 7 , technically faultless at all times, completely at ease in the grandeur of opus 111, playfully delicate in the opus 119 bagatelles, a noble artist to the manner born.

Michael Patterson produced an elegant album that was flawlessly engineered by Arthur Alexander.