two of my favorite piano sonatas and how important the performer seems to be

 

 

They are as follows:

 

 

Beethoven, piano sonata no. 27, opus 90, second movement (“Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen”; Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner)

 

 

Andrew Rangell

 

Emil Gilels

 

Manon Clément

 

Maurizio Pollini

 

Steven Osborne

 

 

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Schubert, sonata no. 20 in A, D. 959, second movement (Andante)

 

 

Alfred Brendel

 

David Korevaar

 

Gerhard Oppitz

 

Mitsuko Uchida

 

 

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My love of these two pieces may partially have to do with the circumstances under which I first heard them.

My mother used play the second movement of the Beethoven sonata. Like many amateur pianists, she had a few favorite pieces she would play all the time that she must have learned from her piano teacher. I would fall asleep listening to her play the second movement of sonata number 27 with great feeling. I didn’t care whether her technique would have been regarded as good or not. (Nor, at that age, would I have thought about this.)

 

 

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Schubert, sonata no. 20 in A, no. 959, second movement (Andante)

 

I first heard the Schubert sonata, hitherto unknown to me, in the film Au Hasard Balthashar, directed by Robert Bresson, at the now defunct Elgin Theatre on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. It got me in a visceral sense. Bresson was a master at using music in his films, sparingly yet always effectively. The Andante functions as a leitmotif for the soundtrack.

 

 

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Beethoven, piano sonata no. 27, opus 90, second movement

 

As far as these renditions of the second and last movement go, I think Emil Gilels plays the movement too fast. I am not sure that’s the right way to put it, but he seems to play without feeling, sort of rushes through the movement and wings it, so to speak. As if he were not heeding Beethoven’s instructions to play it “not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner.”

I like Andrew Rangell and Manon Clément’s interpretations. Neither pianist is that well known. I have a preference (I think; it’s hard to make such judgments) for Manon Clément’s rendition. Maybe she’s inferior to the other pianists in technical skill, but she manages to make the piece compelling.

 

 

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Schubert, sonata no. 20 in A, no. 959, second movement

 

What was Mitsuko Uchida thinking (or intending) when she played the Andante of this sonata? Andante, yes; means at a “walking pace.” She seems to have interpreted Andante as meaning “crawling.” She puts you to sleep. (I am not an expert, but it seems as if she could have played a tad more fortissimo.) She is a renowned interpreter of Mozart, Schubert, and other composers. I have heard some of her Mozart renditions, and they are outstanding.

Note at how much faster a tempo (dramatic, but perhaps it should have been a bit slower) Alfred Brendel commences the andante. And, he plays it much louder. Overall, I think Brendel’s rendition is impressive and does the movement justice.

Overall, of the four versions posted here, I prefer German pianist Gerhard Oppitz’s rendition.

 

 

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This brings to mind something true about music from my personal experience. How valid it is, or whether it conforms to others’ experience, I don’t know. As is evinced by the Beethoven, I grew to love it by hearing my mother, an amateur pianist, play it with feeling. And, of all the versions posted here, I think I like Manon Clément’s the best, yet she is the least well known performer. Conclusion, for what it’s worth: the circumstances under which one hears music and the emotional content the performer can convey — through skill but also through performance intangibles, and through the desire to “communicate” musically (rather than just be admired as a performer) — make a great difference.

It’s not that different in writing, something which I know more about. An earnest desire to communicate can go a long way in making a piece of writing succeed. It’s not the only thing — technical skill and knowledge must be there — but a showoff who just wants to impress and does the job with no sense of their real or virtual audience (be it that in playing or writing) will leave listeners and readers feeling unfulfilled.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts a websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin.
This entry was posted in Elinor Handy Smith (Roger W. Smith's mother), music (from the point of view of a listener), my favorite music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to two of my favorite piano sonatas and how important the performer seems to be

  1. Tom Riggio says:

    Good choices and good thoughts. Thanks.

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