- Variations (15) and fugue on a theme from "Prometheus" for piano in E flat major ("Eroica Variations"), Op. 35
- Variations (6) on an original theme for piano in F major, Op. 34
- Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31/1
- Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major ("Hunt"), Op. 31/3
- Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor ("Tempest"), Op. 31/2
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The "neuer Weg" (new way) referred to in the title of this release by pianist Andreas Staier is not the performance of Beethoven's piano music on a historical instrument, something various pianists have done. Nor is it even the 1810 piano by Viennese maker Matthias Müller, an unusual, clean instrument that compares favorably to the usual Walter models. Instead, the "neuer Weg" was something promised by Beethoven himself, in the famed Heiligenstadt Testament, the unmailed letter in which he laid out his ambitions and his fears about his encroaching deafness. Staier here gathers five piano works: three sonatas and two vastly contrasting variation sets, written close in time to the Testament. The "neuer Weg" did not materialize immediately, but what Staier gets here is that Beethoven's ambitions did. The "Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31, No. 3," has been called "a sonata about the sonata, music about music," and indeed, in all five of these works, convention is pushed to its extremes. Staier lingers over the first notes of each variation of the "Six Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 34," as Beethoven, in unprecedented fashion, moves to a new key for each one. In the "Fifteen Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E flat major, Op. 35," known as the "Eroica Variations" because they use the same tune as the finale of the "Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55," he gives muscular power to the likewise unique mini set of variations that introduces the work. The slow movements of the "three Op. 31 sonatas," which can seem merely frilly, have a fantastic quality here, with Staier using the nimbleness of the fortepiano to glide over the arpeggiated decorations in the Adagio grazioso (an unusual tempo marking in itself) of the "Piano Sonata No. 31 in G major, Op. 31, No. 1." Staier is sensitive at every turn, and he brings out the "sonatas"' creatively restless quality without turning to the heavily percussive quality of which the fortepiano is capable. Fine Teldex Studio sound captures the subtlety and clarity of Staier's approach in this excellent Beethoven period-instrument recording that may be too restrained for some but will reward many repeated hearings.
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