Philippe Entremont Revisits Beethoven

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

At 85, Philippe Entremont’s technique remains in good order, while his musical insights have evolved in Beethoven. He actually recorded three of these four sonatas in the late 1950s, which appeared in the United States on the Musical Masterpiece Society label, and later in a dicey-sounding transfer from the budget Sine Qua Non outfit. Two further recordings of Op. 49 No. 2 appeared on Columbia Masterworks, along with the “Moonlight” sonata’s Adagio.

Entremont’s fourth Op. 49 No. 2 preserves his best and most internalized interpretation. The pianist ennobles this little sonata with a fuller tonal palette and a wider berth of inflection, with more than a few left-hand anticipations. He plays the Moonlight’s Adagio faster than he did decades ago, and metes out rubatos with discretion and taste. The aims of Entremont’s contentious voice leading in the Allegretto are true, yet the overall effect is heavy and sluggish, as is his Presto Finale. While his Appassionata is not so incisive as a half-century ago, Entremont’s power and feeling for continuity readily communicate, although he doesn’t play softly enough when needed.

Op. 109 is new to Entremont’s discography, and much of it is a revelation. He revels in the first movement’s improvisatory gestures and points of lyrical respite without belaboring them. Aside from occasional rushing and (again) overly loud fingerwork, the Prestissimo’s surging urgency comes across well. In the third movement’s opening theme, Entremont pays particular attention to the left-hand lines, while centering the top line on the tonic E-natural, as Schnabel both taught and did in his two recordings.

A firm pulse prevails in Variation 1, tempered by strategically placed diminuendos. Notice, too, the suave transition between Nos. 3 and 4, and the pianist’s jaunty, assured romp through No. 5’s deceptively tricky counterpoint. In the aftermath of No. 6’s gorgeously gauged chains of trills, Entremont’s deliberate, emotionally spent reading of the theme’s reiteration brings this engaging and committed interpretation to a peaceful close. A release worth investigating, but ignore the pretentious, hagiographic, and virtually unreadable booklet notes.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Op. 27 No. 2: Perahia (DG), Op. 57: Richter (RCA), Op. 109: Fischer (Warner Classics)

    Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major Op. 49 No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor Op. 27 No. 2 (“Moonlight”); Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major Op. 109; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor Op. 57 (“Appassionata”)
  • Philippe Entremont (piano)

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