Beethoven composed 32 sonatas for solo piano. And there are several performers such as Andras Schiff and Daniel Barenboim who have recently travelled the globe and performed all of these in multiple evenings of marvelous listening experience.
This is a wonderful CD in which pianist Jonathan Biss performs four of these sonatas by Beethoven. They are: The “Pathetique” op. 13, the Sonata #27, Op. 90, the “Pastorale” Sonata, Op. 28, and finally one of my great Beethoven favorites, the Sonata number 30, Op. 109.
Mr. Biss’ musicianship provides a wonderful journey with each of these works. Since the # 30 is my favorite, I’ll only talk about that one.
Beethoven wrote this masterpiece in 1820. At first, the components of this sonata were going to be independent pieces, but ultimately Beethoven used the material to create the first of the last 3 sonatas he composed. For me, the highlight of the work is the concluding movement, which Beethoven titled in German: Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. (In a singing style, with the most heartfelt expression). This concluding movement is structured as a Theme with six variations that follow, and finally the return of the theme. (I have actually wondered today whether Beethoven had in mind the Bach Goldberg Variations at the time that this was composed; I’ll have to research that thought further!)
Jonathan Biss provides a wonderful, highly expressive, and deeply felt performance of this work. He shows us the strong contrasts in the first five variations, and the great lyric content of the sixth. We then hear the “completed circle”, as it were, when the wonderful, peaceful theme comes back to us one final time before the sonata closes.
I have a sense that perhaps 20 years from now, Mr. Biss will be traveling the globe to present all of the Beethoven sonatas. I won’t be around anymore; for now, I’ll be happy to enjoy Jonathan Biss’ concerts and recordings.
Since I did not discuss the Sonata “Pathetique”, here’s a brief video, with Mr. Biss performing the beginning of the first movement: