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Beethoven: The Final Masterworks For Piano / Andrew Rangell

Release Date: 12/06/2011
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30007
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:  Andrew Rangell Number of Discs: 3
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 3 Hours 35 Mins.

Album Credits:
Sonata No. 28, Op. 101 & Sonata No. 29, Op. 106 recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy New York in January, 1990.
Producer: Edwin I. Lawrence
Engineers: Douglas Brown, David H. Halters, Brian C. Peters
Post-Session Producer: Edwin I. Lawrence, Andrew Rangell
Piano: Steinway Model D

Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 & Sonata No. 32, Op. 111 recorded at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York in March, 1991.
Producer: David H. Walters
Engineers: David H. Walters, Douglas Brown
Post-Session Producer: Andrew Rangell
Piano: Steinway Model D

Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 recorded live at the
Read more Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City in April 1977.
Engineers: WNCN
Post-Production: Joel Gordon
Piano: Steinway Model D

Bagatelles, Op. 126 recorded at Studio 1, WGBH, Boston in March 1995.
Engineer: Allen Mattes
Editor: Evan Hirsh
Producer: Andrew Rangell
Piano: Steinway Model D (Hambeurg)

Mastering: Brad Michel
Aart Direction: Oberlander Group

The last five piano sonatas, the Diabelli Variations and the Bagatelles, Op. 126 represent Beethoven at the summit of his mastery in each of these forms. All are transcendent creations, unequalled in their emotional range, conceptual daring, and ever-expanding treatment of piano sonorities and textures.
-- Andrew Rangell

“Beethoven sonatas 28 and especially 29 (“Hammerklavier”) are immense in their emotional range and technical challenges. Andrew Rangell possesses the intelligence and dexterity to reckon nobly with these humbling conceptions.”
-- Time Magazine

“[Andrew Rangell's] approach to the music is deeply personal, individual but never eccentric, sensitive to all the music’s highly varied needs, technically precise and artistically polished.”
-- Washington Post

“This recording [Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations] can stand with the finest ever made; it is a major achievement of musical understanding (and of questioning) and a staggering display of imaginative keyboard colorations.”
-- Boston Globe

The last five piano sonatas, the Diabelli Variations and the Bagatelles, Op. 126 represent Beethoven at the summit of his mastery in each of these forms. All are transcendent creations, unequalled in their emotional range, conceptual daring, and ever-expanding treatment of piano sonorities and textures. -- Andrew Rangell
Here, collected on three CDs, are Beethoven’s final masterworks for piano. I must admit I had no idea that Steinway & Sons had branched out into producing CDs, though the credits make no secret of the fact that these are recycled recordings from 1977 ( Diabelli Variations ), 1991–92 (sonatas), and 1995 (Bagatelles) that originally appeared on the Dorian label.

Two of Andrew Rangell’s ventures into Bach—a disc of miscellaneous keyboard works and a complete Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier —earned strong endorsements from me in Fanfare 30:1 and 31:5. So not only did I look forward to hearing the pianist’s Beethoven, I actually requested this set for review, and I was not disappointed that I did.

Rangell is as informed a player of Beethoven as he is of Bach, and his own booklet notes testify to his erudition. A reading of those notes reveals that Rangell considers neither the three concluding sonatas nor even the massive “Hammerklavier,” No. 29, to be the radical break with the composer’s past keyboard works. Rather, he cites the A-Major Sonata, No. 28, as the moment of the leap, pointing out the new types and configurations of movements, the transfiguring synthesis of fugal and variations forms with that of the sonata, the strange, widespread textures and new, expressive varieties of trills, and so on.

What strike me immediately about Rangell’s performance of the A-Major Sonata are his easeful lyricism in the first movement and his sunny, joyful interpretation of the second movement, which comes across as more playful than stern, as it does, for example, in the hands of Pollini.

Rangell also brings a certain sense of intimacy to the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, which, to some, may seem out of character with the grand scale of the work and the declamatory nature of a good deal of its writing. But in truth, there are moments of inwardness, and not just in the great Adagio, that Rangell calls attention to. This may seem an odd comparison, but Rangell’s “Hammerklavier” strikes me as being of similar mind and approach to that of Glenn Gould; it comes to the fore especially in the fugal episodes of the last movement in which Rangell’s Bach-like manner of counterpointing has much in common with Gould’s.

The gentle lyricism returns in Rangell’s fluid treatment of the E-Major Sonata’s first movement, but the real highlight here is the closing Gesangvoll movement. I’m quite sure I’ve never heard the opening theme and slow variations played this slowly, this quietly, and with such a sense of rapt stillness. This has to be the very definition of innigkeit . If I could choose only one version of this movement to live with, this would be it.

The feeling of an intimate, private conversation is sustained in the first movement of the A?-Major Sonata, intruded upon only briefly by the Allegro molto which, again, as in the A-Major Sonata, Rangell puts a playful spin on. The finale is possibly Beethoven’s most structurally and harmonically complex movement before his final string quartets. The relationships among the intervallic and motivic elements are extraordinarily intricate, even convoluted. Alfred Brendel has observed that the entire sonata leading up to this last movement is derived from a hexachord, the intervals of a third and fourth that intersect it, and voice-leading by contrary motion. This is not the place for detailed analysis; suffice it to say that drawing together all of these strands and uniting them in a performance that sounds all of a piece is a significant challenge Rangell manages to surmount with the musical acuity that complements the intellectual acuity of his written program notes.

Of Beethoven’s final three sonatas, I have to admit that the last, in C Minor, is the one I find most puzzling. The first movement, with its slow introduction followed by several pages of ranting and raving, has always struck me as a throwback to the style and content of his earlier “Pathétique” and “Tempest” sonatas. The succeeding Arietta, which is also the concluding movement of this two-movement structure, is of a different musical universe, prompting such explanations to make sense of the whole thing as “the triumph of order over chaos, of optimism over anguish” (Robert Taub). Brendel hears in the Arietta something “mystical,” while Mitsuko Uchida has likened its third variation to boogie-woogie, jazz, and ragtime.

In any case, if you’re looking for a performance of the first movement that storms the heavens Rangell is probably not your man. In keeping with his general approach to these late works, he tends to avoid tantrums for a more cool-headed reserve. In that reserve, however, there is a sense of authority that comes from absolute technical mastery and control. His Arietta, once again, exhibits the same sense of quiet ecstasy heard in the concluding movement of the E-Major Sonata.

A number of excellent Diabelli s have come down the pike recently, not least of which is one by Paul Lewis, reviewed in 35:2. I won’t say that Rangell outperforms Lewis in the work, but given his take on the sonatas, I am quite surprised by his reading of the Diabelli Variations. Contrary to my expectations that he would play straight man to Beethoven’s moments of raucous, rowdy humor, Rangell proves capable of being quite the clown. Just listen to one of the more absurdist variations, No. 9, to hear how delightfully daffy in response to Beethoven’s dippiness Rangell can be. This is a fun-filled Diabelli I’d rate among the best.

-- Fanfare Read less