“Beethoven: The Last Sonatas – Piano Sonatas Opus 109, 110, 111”
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonatas n° 30 in E major, Opus 109, n° 31 in A-Flat major, Opus 110, & n° 32 in C minor, Opus 111
Gerardo Teissonnière (piano)
Recording: Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia (September 7-9, 2021) – 69’06
Steinway & Sons 30188 – Cover notes in English
Listening to Beethoven’s final three piano sonatas is a bit like completing a triathlon. As Beethoven seals his collection of 32 sonatas with the stamp of a gentle C major chord, the listener sorts through a range of emotions and ideas that are both exhausting and exhilarating. So much more so for the artist who has memorized these works of complexity, delicacy and power. Just the act of internalizing these three sonatas, which seem mystically interconnected, is enough to inspire our awe and appreciation.
Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and a student of disciples of Schnabel and Cortot, Gerardo Teissonnière brings a unique interpretation of the Late Sonatas which commands our attention, though some listeners may find speed bumps along the way.
Listening to the affable opening in Piano Sonata n° 30 in E major, Opus 109, I recalled a popular anecdote in which Beethoven himself once characterized the playing of Mozart as being too choppy with not enough legato. This observation could be made against this performance as well, at least in parts of the first movement and the two sonatas to follow. After a smooth conversational gambit between the right and left hands in the first movement, the sonata travels over some rough terrain, but with enough elegantly turned phrases to offer balance. The long “Andante” with variations that concludes the 30th sonata glows warmly under Teissonnière’s gentle touch, though the 32nd notes in the bass in the penultimate minutes may be too dominant (this could be a recording issue).
In the Piano Sonata n° 31 in A-Flat major, Opus 110, Teissonnière provides balanced readings of the first two movements, leading into Beethoven’s complex, deliciously inexplicable writing in the “Adagio, ma non troppo”. Especially well played are the breathtaking moments between the recitative and the radical key change from flats to sharps and back again, sounding at times like the human voice in prayer or love (though undedicated, scholars speculate that the last two sonatas were to be dedicated to one of the composer’s great loves, Antonie Brentano). From this point onward, Beethoven takes us to a land of flats and triplets where it is best not to puzzle too deeply but let the pianist’s wizardry carry us unresisting to unimaginable heights.
The last movement of the 31st and both movements of the 32nd Sonatas make Herculean demands on the pianist, but there are some moments disarming in their simplicity, such as the nine G chords separated by rests that rise majestically from pianissimo to fortissimo in the third movement of the Opus 110. Here, Teissonnière’s strong suit—his power and strength—yields impressive returns in creating a memorable musical experience. This is especially true in the “Arietta”, the final movement in Opus 111, and the last of all of Beethoven’s piano sonata movements.
The pianist caresses the keys in a sort of lullaby in the first minutes of this valedictory. But Beethoven is not closing the sonata playbook just yet until he has completely dazzled and exhausted our senses. Despite the demands of Opp. 109 and 110, Teissonnière offers an impressive technical rendering of the last movement’s variations. I was impressed with his performance of the dainty 32nd note triplets that twinkle in the stratosphere of the work’s final pages. But I could not help recalling other performances in which they had a heart-stopping icy brilliance. These passages and the trills that seem to go on forever, beyond human limitations, create a kind of aural aurora borealis that opens a door in those final measures, a door to a world beyond comprehension and without end.
Congratulations and thank you to Gerardo Teissonnière for gifting us his own vision of Beethoven as expressed in the Late Sonatas. Each listener will cherish this interpretation in their own way, and all will find within its dimensions something of beauty and value.