Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 30-32 - Colom
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-1901 (2 discs)
Classical - Instrumental
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 30-32, Bagatelles Op. 126
Josep Colom (piano)
Josep Colom’s latest album includes Beethoven’s legendary last three piano sonatas (Opp. 109-111) and Bonn genius’ latest piano work, the Bagatelles op.126. Colom’s original and exceptional vision brings out a fresh and different view on Beethoven’s masterpieces, one which creates a single narrative path to weave together the individual movements of these three sonatas and the six bagatelles by means of a fascinating play of analogies and contrasts. The bagatelles act, in a way, as preludes to the sonatas, with transitional passages that stem from the pianist’s own imagination.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - May 28, 2019
Question any triple w search engine about who might be the best interpreters of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and you’ll end up with a hand full of pianists having recorded them in the past with the major labels. And amongst them not one from Spain, nor any female pianist either. Amazing isn’t it? Are people so afraid of getting it wrong that they prefer to stick to what is commonly assumed? Hard to say. But it sure means an uphill battle for young and upcoming talent - as well as for those who never got the same promotional support - to attract sufficient public interest on which to build a satisfactory career.
And may I offer another obstacle, valid for artists with strong personal views; the matter of ‘correct interpretation’. These days, performances are so readily and abundantly available via concert hall, record or radio, that a kind of ‘the way it should be played’ seems to have established itself, copying for instance how the famous SoandSo does it. Many artists are thus tempted to give preference to playing within the limits of ‘agreed’ perceptions; a phenomenon possibly reinforced by the ‘master classes’ where young pianists are instructed on how to play things? By the same token, many audiences will be critical towards interpreters venturing too much into ‘uncharted territory’.
It hasn’t always been like that. If we go back in time, for example to the first half of the 20th century, impressive differences between artists could occur, as great names were mainly performing in their own habitat, where personal views went unchallenged, if only because the possibility of instant comparison hardly existed. Some would even take the liberty of diverting at will from the composer's score to suit their own taste. This would now be largely unthinkable, but in those days they were the heroes, the Alfred Cortot of the past.
After many hours of listening and comparing I have come to the conclusion that Josep Colom doesn’t fit any of the modern stereotypes. He is different. He very much is his own man. More like his early 20th century predecessors. Colom comes across as a pianist with a pronounced personal view, someone who doesn’t shun adding stylistic ornaments. A ‘franc-parleur’ of the piano, as a connoisseur described the style of a similar Iberian genius, Artur Pizzarro (Winner of the 1990 Leeds Piano Competition).
In his interpretation of Beethoven’s last three sonatas, Colom seeks and takes liberty in shaping tempi and phrasing as he deems fit. At first hearing it is destabilizing; adjustment is needed. But where others get boring after repeated listening, Colon manages to capture the attention by opening windows giving each time a different insight into the so well-known scores, creating different angles to look at it. Surely out of the ordinary. But isn’t that refreshing? Makes one think again. And it did. At least as far as I’m concerned.
For instance, his frequent holding back does not seem to be a gimmick ‘for the sake of it’, or to provoke, but rather to giving himself, and the listener, time to wonder about the meaning of, and giving spiritual substance to the score; taking distance before passing to the next step. Nothing is more personal than musical appreciation. It may disturb some that in doing so, Colom’s reading doesn’t, for instance, match the flow of a Stephen Kovacevich. But others may very well appreciate his thoughtful approach, which he amply compensates elsewhere with stunning technical mastery.
As a matter of fact I, too, believe that Beethoven’s final Sonatas allow for much personal expression. That’s why these Sonatas are not for beginners. Being able to play all the notes, following all indications to the letter, being acrobatically astute, is not enough. They demand years of experience and deep understanding of Ludwig van Beethoven, his inner self, his temperament, moods of desolation and subsequent resignation. Colom’s playing gives clear evidence that he has understood it all and that he has that difficult to define ‘it’ in the way he is moulding the score. His account of each of these ultimate and intimate Sonatas is well thought through, of unexpected surprises and full of dynamic subtleties, making his Beethoven unique and difficult to catch in any preconceived conventional format. That is, I think, the essence of his reading.
I don’t usually compare timings as they seldom tell the whole story. And that is true here as well. Of all the recordings I listened to for comparison there isn’t one (with the exception of Ronald Brautigam, but he plays in a different league altogether) that is always faster or slower than any other. It varies greatly with and within each of the sonatas and movements. Listen for instance to the second movement of Sonata 32, with its long, dreamy start. Timing alone is not of importance, it’s more a matter of intelligently projecting the notes in the available time frame that keeps the music flowing and the listener spell bound. In this respect Colom proves that his approach is not only in keeping with the reflective mood, but also aimed at not losing track of the sequence of the score and, henceforth, the listener’s patience.
The three Sonatas are each preceded by two carefully selected introductory ‘Bagatelles’. A nice thought, giving the listener, with a recorded total of 78:21 minutes, also much additional value for money!
Though Colom doesn’t replace my preference for the feminine, yet remarkably powerful and deeply felt account of Mari Kodama on Pentatone, especially in the third movement of No. 30, where she, in my opinion, conveys more convincingly “mit inigster Empfindung”, I must admit that he, Colom, creates here a different picture, another way to look at things, which makes his reading a valuable experience. And then again, Eudora’s recording is outstanding. The sound is clean, almost clinically clean, to the point that each and every note comes out clearly, from warm low to tingling high.
If you want to leave the beaten track, than this release could well be the compelling choice you’ve been looking for to complete your survey of alternative performances.
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