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‘The Complete Piano Sonatas, Volume 2’
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonatas N° 10 in C major, K. 330, N° 11 in A major, K. 331 (‘Alla turca’), N° 13 in B-Flat major, K. 333 (‘Linz’), N° 12 in F major, K. 332, N° 14 in C minor, K. 457, N° 15 in F major, K. 533, N° 16 in C major, K. 545 (‘Sonata semplice’), in F major, Ahn. 135/K. 547a, N° 17 in B-Flat major, K. 570, & N° 18 in D major, K. 576 (‘Hunt’)

Jeffrey Biegel (Piano)
Recording: Joseph Patrych Sound Studio, Bronx, New York (December 2011) – 220’22
Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSIC EOM-CD-7758 (3CDs) – Booklet in English

American virtuoso Jeffrey Biegel may be best known for performing and recording 19th century Romantic repertoire as well as his espousal of contemporary music (most recently, Lucas Richman’s Piano Concerto composed for Biegel)(Read here) and occasional retro crossover (Claude Bolling’s newly arranged Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio) (Read here). However, this Juilliard trained performer, a late pupil of Adele Marcus, is first and foremost a classical musician, something easily confirmed by past CDs of Bach, Mozart and Chopin, and now cemented by the second and quite spectacular volume of Piano Sonatas by Mozart. The new set of three CDs completes the first (released in 2009), and it should be a mandatory acquisition for every serious piano teacher and piano student worldwide.

Yes, it’s that good.

The new set encompassing the final nine Sonatas as well as the posthumous Sonata in F major, K. 547a (an amalgam of modified movements from other compositions and often performed with a stray set of variations as the middle movement) is also included here.

Biegel performs the music with vigour, lyricism and an innate comprehension of its architecture which are nothing short of masterful. Playing a Hamburg ‘D’ Steinway grand, he delivers a liquid tonality as his sonic foundation, bright though never aggressive middle and upper registers, and a glorious range of texture and dynamics which always respects the music's essential classicism. Biegel’s playing demonstrates a clarity not unlike Glenn Gould’s playing of baroque and classical composers. At other times Biegel’s feathery upper register has a transparency which Vladimir Horowitz brought to music from those eras. There is, however, nothing derivative about Biegel’s Mozart. Everything we hear on these discs is the result of his own scholarship, analysis and core personality.

He has elected to play the repeats which are often omitted. He may perform a repeat a bit differently, sometimes more slowly or perhaps more quietly, and sometimes adds his own ornamentation. While I did not have the opportunity to follow the score, I noted early on that Biegel’s ornamentation always is fully integrated into the music’s phrasing which breathes beautifully and perfectly.

In the Sonata N° 10 in C major Biegel’s playing of the opening movement is immediately lyrical, expressive and highly inflected, yet devoid of mannerism or affectation. The slow movement’s right hand line is characterized by subtle melodic control, whether chords or a feathery single line, while the closing “Allegretto”, an elegant march, benefits from rich pedal, but never too much. The sonic palette conjured by Biegel is often akin to that of a great string quartet or other chamber ensemble.

The Sonata N° 11 in A major (‘Alla turca’) is among Mozart’s most popular, perhaps for its seeming simplicity as well as its readily accessible melodies. Biegel’s approach is simple, though never austere or academic. As the opening “Theme and Variations” becomes increasingly elaborate, he brings further detail and nuance, and later relishes Mozart’s striking dynamic and mood contrasts in the final “Rondo alla turca.”

Biegel employs vibrant trills during the opening movement of the Sonata N° 13 in B-Flat major (‘Linz’) when the lyrical main subject quickly pulls listeners into the music. The second movement “Andante cantabile” foreshadows some of Robert Schumann’s piano writing with affectionate, conversing voices, while the elaborate finale “Allegretto grazioso” builds to a concerto-like ending.

In the program notes, Biegel discusses his approach of the Sonatas that can be viewed as orchestral sketches, something he communicates consistently and effectively. The Sonata N° 12 in F major also has a concerto ‘feel’ and anticipates a good deal of Beethoven’s earlier piano works: the elegantly lyrical first theme, then the horn-like second motif in the first movement, the elegiac subject (major, then minor) for the slow second movement, and the cadenza-like flourish which opens the elaborate final one. Biegel almost seems to be conducting an imaginary orchestra as well as playing the piano here. The Sonata N° 14 in C minor is, again, concerto-like and characterized by sudden and dramatic contrasts which similarly prefigure Beethoven.

Mozart returned to a more lyric, pastoral mood in the Sonata N° 15 in F major. If it’s possible to cite a highlight from such a fine overall recording, Biegel brings particular relish to the extended (almost thirteen minutes) second movement (“Andante”) which commences rather like a Sarabande from a Bach keyboard Suite and evolves into yet another section foreshadowing Robert Schumann’s piano writing some fifty years later.

The Sonata N° 16 in C major may be the best known of all the works presented here, especially the brief first movement which any piano student will recognize. Its closing movement is striking for the delicate dialogue between right hand thirds then left hand thirds, again with obvious orchestral connotations. Mozart used a variant on this for the closing movement also of the posthumous Sonata in F major while this work’s opening movement starts with familiar chords leading to immediate and declamatory descending figurations, almost a glimpse of Liszt or Paganini.

The Sonata N° 17 in B-Flat major is most striking in the droll final movement with its repeated note melody, a kind of perpetuum mobile with bass voicing contributing further dialogue. After its familiar opening, the concluding Sonata N° 18 in D major (‘Hunt’) leads to an austere “Adagio” with hints of Franz Schubert, then a final movement, “Allegretto assai”, notable for Bach-like left hand figuration.

Some of these Sonatas may be more listener-friendly than others. Jeffrey Biegel has succeeded magnificently in making each one memorable, striking and personal. His use of all repeats enables greater breadth to the music, even greater stature. And in such consistently magisterial performances, listeners gain an opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the music’s riches even more.

I have a final honorable mention, in addition to Messieurs Mozart and Biegel. This CD set is one of the best sounding recent solo piano recordings I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t know the setup details used by producer Susan Napodano DelGiorno and engineer Joseph Patrych, but let’s just say they’ve hit a rare home run. Too many piano discs these days have excess computer-added reverberation which never sounds like anything we hear in live performances or even in a studio, and that tends to compress natural dynamic range. The acoustics on this Mozart CD set reminds me of some of the best studio and live analog stereo recordings from Arthur Rubinstein, Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz during the mid-1960s. 50 years down the road I can only say that Jeffrey Biegel and everyone who hears this CD set are lucky beneficiaries.

Charles Pope Jr.




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