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Beethoven Final Sonatas, Bagatelles - Donald Isler

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata Op.110
Piano Sonata Op.111
Bagatelles Op.126

Donald Isler, piano

KASP 57611

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Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven

The 31st sonata starts off where the previous sonata left off with plenty of the Beethovenian drama and a sense of the mysterious as Isler builds the first movement to a well controlled climax. There are places where the pianist could have lingered over some notes without sounding ‘mannered’ but the direct route was chosen instead and shouldn’t be criticised. A ritardando here and there wouldn’t have hurt and would have added a bit more of a feeling of spirituality which is considered to be so much a part of Beethoven’s late sonatas. The second movement is full of brio and all the necessary drive is here and it finishes strongly.

Yet again Isler shows his ability to construct a slow movement and this has to be one of the better renditions I've heard. Isler takes his time and varies the tempo between the sections to maintain the listener's interest. The carefully considered weight he gives to individual notes makes the middle section sing and makes for a very moving account.

The final fugue is taken at the correct Allegro speed (unlike some who slow it down to the detriment of the structure). Isler keeps building the movement block by block to a very thrilling climax. This is a real tour de force and I felt like applauding at the end.

Finally we come to the enigmatic Op 111. It starts a little breathlessly and opportunities to make certain musical points along the way are initially lost. However, Isler settles into his work and gives a fine rendition of the movement.

I was most interested to hear how Isler would handle the Arietta. The set of variations that start it need to build slowly and inexorably to that sudden anticlimactic moment when the rolling triplets in the left hand signal the beginning of one of the most spiritual pieces of piano music ever written. Isler reproduces this beautifully, carefully articulating each note while never losing sight of the structure of the piece. All technical difficulties seem to disappear as you are lost in the soundscape that Isler creates. This is an excellent Op 111 and a fitting end to the recital.

The accompanying Op 126 Bagatelles which commenced the disc are well played and make for enjoyable listening.

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to these discs as Isler knows his Beethoven. He is in tune with the composer’s changing temperament and his ability to draw out the conflicting emotions found in the slow movements without becoming mawkish shows a musician who is very comfortable with these works.

On top of that Isler appears to have developed his own way of communicating the music. He certainly took note of what Hungerford did with Beethoven but he hasn't attempted to copy him. Isler's playing is distinguished by its clear articulation which occasionally shows up some rhythmic irregularities but Isler is not prepared to compromise to hide this and nor should he. I look forward to further Beethoven recordings by him.


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