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In his moving programme note Bernard Roberts observed that his choice of the last three sonatas was prompted by their association with Kendall Taylor's numerous performances (he recorded them for Meridian and published an article on them in the first issue of Arietta, Journal of the BPSE). Both Roberts and KT used to conduct stimulating lunchtime discussions at the RCM, during which the issues of thematic unity amongst the sonatas was a perennial topic. Indeed Roberts's masterly performances -- for which he (unusually) used the music -- highlighted these connections in a profoundly expressive manner. For instance the moment of silence between the reprise of the theme at the close of the E major Sonata Op 109 finale, and the start of the A flat sonata Op 110 seemed to reinforce the connection between the falling thirds of the E major reinterpreted as the rising thirds of the A flat (an inversion on the G sharp/A flat axis), a connection strengthened by their similar stately rhythmic profiles.

Certainly in Roberts' accounts of these three masterworks, the richness of thematic details in the texture came through with lucidity, yet this was far from a cool analytic conception, and rather a performance of intensely personal expression and warmth. There are myriad paths to Parnassus, witness the penetrating pianism of Brendel or Pollini's riveting late Beethoven, and this searching and involving account by Bernard Roberts was both freshly insightful and engagingly idiomatic. The E major sonata built considerable tension in the first movement, with some attractively bright sonorities in the upper registers, underlining some long range connections which Beethoven delineates in these rarified pianistic regions. The propulsive Scherzo movement was exciting from start to finish, yet here Roberts' forthright tone gave way to some sweet colouring of the lyrical passages and a gentle, subtle rubato. The Variations were allowed to intensify without sentimentality or mannerism, the purity of the textures sustained with clear tonal projection of the melodic ideas and shading of secondary layers. As mentioned, the A flat Sonata Op 110 that followed seemed to continue a chapter in the unfolding tryptich. The rhythmic framework was paced with poise and spaciousness, with each varying texture, the rippling arpeggios, questioning chordal themes, quasi-fugal passages (in the development) all flowing in measured cogency. The recitatives were poignantly intense, and while immersed in Beethoven's idiom, came across without affectation, the resonantly repeated note-pairs imbued with restrained passion. The fugal finale was full of clarity of motivic detail, every part in place, building thrilling momentum.

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Copyright © 8 November 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK







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