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CD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Piano Sonata #8 "Pathétique", Op. 13
  • Piano Sonata #17 "Tempest", Op. 31 #2
  • Piano Sonata #23 "Appassionata" in F minor, Op. 57
Ingrid Fliter, piano
EMI 094573-2 DDD
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To many music lovers the name of Ingrid Fliter still won't ring much of a bell. Yet 38-year old Argentinian-born Ingrid Fliter isn't exactly a newcomer in the field. Noted by Martha Argerich early on, Fliter struck silver in the 2000 Frédéric Chopin Warsaw Competition before the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award, a prestigious non-competition award made to an outstanding pianist deemed worthy of a global career, put her even more on the map. That same year she was signed by EMI and while her first two discs were all-Chopin (Complete Waltzes 98351-2 and Barcarolle, Mazurkas, etc. 14899-2, consolidating her reputation as a specialist of that composer, her most recent CD groups three of Beethoven's most famous piano sonatas.

The Sonata #8, Op. 13 was dubbed "Grande Sonate Pathétique" and that's precisely how Fliter seems to approach it, apparently with "grand" also in the sense of "weighty" – although this impression undoubtedly derives for some part from the excessive reverberation the recording engineers inflicted upon her piano. After a ponderous Grave, the Allegro molto e con brio departs with a nice flow and does readily demonstrate Fliter's dynamism. Interestingly, she observes the exposition repeat but goes all the way back to the beginning. Arguably this can be justified as the development section also starts with a Grave, but in practice, like here, it slows down the sweep of the movement considerably and the movement runs for 11.16 min. The Rondo: Allegro is performed with vigor and panache, even if the murky sound tends to obscure Fliter's phrasing.

What denies this reading an unconditional recommendation, however, is the almost static Adagio cantabile. Fliter opts for a very slow non-singing tempo, adding rallentandi that threaten to break it completely up. By comparison Wilhelm Kempff, who cannot exactly be accused of rushing, takes in his last recording one full minute less than Fliter and attains Olympian heights. A true master pianist like Emil Gilels could indeed pull such a slow tempo off, but his more articulated left hand figures added color as well a rhythmic pulse to prevent it from stalling.

The Sonata #17, Op. 31/2 "Tempest" fares much the same as the "Pathétique". Fliter doesn't seem to think of it so much as this unheard, revolutionary work of the time but instead leaves one wondering where the "storm" truly comes in. Although she finds plenty of mystery in the largo passages the allegro remains disciplined, avoiding too much emotional disturbance. Tempi are never rushed, fast passagework is clear, it's all very elegantly done and with good taste, but it leaves you wanting for more. That more is almost delivered in the Allegretto, which sparkles with a healthy breath.

Just as in the "Pathétique" the Adagio fails to convince. The opening hesitant arpeggio sets the tone for the rest of the movement which takes with Fliter almost as long as the preceding one. With a dragging tempo and the recurrent rhythmic figures sounding too comfy, the innate drama is seriously diminished. The lovely section marked "dolce" – which in the hands of others, take Kempff or Sviatoslav Richter, can sound so touching – remains just unremarkable.

The final sonata, #23 in F minor, Op. 57 the "Appassionata" is the most consistent of the trio. All three movements are superbly played and while Fliter never expresses the tempestuous rage of a Richter or the compelling impulsiveness of a Rudolf Serkin, the volatile, more romantically-orientated world of this work suits her best. Unfortunately, the booming bass chords emphasized by the weak engineering rob this sonata of a good deal of its color and shading.

Ingrid Fliter is undeniably a thoughtful artist blessed with a solid technique, and even if this Beethoven disc cannot be called an undivided success, also because of recording issues, there is plenty of promise here that makes her one to look out for. The label's marketing department quickly picked up Norman Lebrecht's enthusiastic line that "she plays Beethoven with an old-master's touch." However, when comparing with some of the real old masters, even poor sonics become totally irrelevant.

Copyright © 2011, Marc Haegeman