GMCD 7405/06 – Piano Sonatas by Beethoven, Schnyder von Wartensee and Liste

Sona Shaboyan (piano)

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Musik & Theater September/Oktober 2014

Vergessenes Repertoire

Der Zürcher Musiker Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836) erwarb sich nicht nur als Komponist, Pädagoge und Begründer der schweizerischen Männerchortradition, sondern auch als Musikverleger grosse Verdienste. Für die Reihe «Repertoire des Clavecinistes» konnte er sogar Beethoven gewinnen. Der Erstdruck von dessen drei Klaviersonaten op.31 kam in Nägelis Musikverlag in Zürich heraus und krönte jene Reihe, in der auch gewichtige Werke von Clementi und Dussek erschienen. Weniger gehaltvoll, jedoch nicht minder interessant sind die beiden Sonaten von Anton Liste und Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee, die Sona Shaboyan mit Beethovens Sonate op.31 Nr.2 («Der Sturm») hier beziehungsreich kombiniert, Von Beethovens Lehrer Albrechtsberger ausgebildet, widmete Anton Liste seine weitschweifige «Grande Sonate» A-Dur dem Vorbild Beethoven, aus dessen «Sturm»-Sonate sie im zweiten Satz zitiert. Eben diese 55 Minuten lange Sonate von Liste brachte Schnyder von Wartensee als Gastgeschenk mit, als er Beethoven in Wien besuchte. Die armenische Pianistin Sona Shaboyan legt sich in allen drei Sonaten mächtig ins Zeug. Sie beschämt die helvetische Pianistenzunft, die es bis anhin verschmähte, mit den beiden Raritäten aus Nägelis «Repertoire des Clavecinistes» Repertoirelücken zu füllen.
Walter Labhart

Gramophone – May 2014

Jed Distler listens to a selection of recent additions to the Beethoven piano discography from pianists you may not have encountered.
Sona Shaboyan programmes the Tempest alongside two obscure sonatas published by the Zurich-based Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836) that were all part of a series devoted to outstanding contemporary composers of that era. Her interpretation is less compulsively detailed than Gorlatch’s, yet arguably more spontaneous and forward-moving; notice the urgency in the finale’s cross-rhythmic accents, the pronounced cantabile in the central movement and stronger adherence to the composer’s controversial long first movement pedal markings. Von Wartensee’s C major Sonata alludes to 1 Weber-esque symmetrical glitter rather than Beethovenian combativeness. Although Anton Liste quotes the Tempest finale’s main theme in the slow movement of his hour-long Grande sonata, the music relates more to Schubert’s looser-knit style in terms of its discursive melodic sidebars and startling harmonic detours. Shaboyan’s integrity and musicality are never in doubt, though added bravura and assertion wouldn’t hurt.
Jed Distler

International Record Review – April 2014

While it is all too easy to overlook an issue such as this, I have no doubt that this is just the kind of project the gramophone should undertake. Indeed, only the gramophone is at all likely to be doing this, for a recital programme made up of these three works is unlikely to attract a big audience — although the music certainly deserves it.
In these three sonatas, we can more readily grasp the historical ‘placing’ of the development of the piano sonata as a genre: its evolving language, the tonal relationships of keys a third apart (one of Beethoven’s greatest discoveries) and the expansion of tonal invention over a much longer time span than Haydn or Mozart (but not Bach) essayed. The first two decades of the nineteenth century must have been a fantastic time for composers, the more so when we consider the extraordinary development of the then-new fortepiano into the Pianoforte — who wouldn’t want to be transported back to that time, even if solely as an observer?
Of these three sonatas, it is of course Beethoven’s which is the only one which is at all known, but they are connected in historical, as well as musical, terms, as they were published in Zurich by Hans Georg Nägeli, who founded a series `Repertoire pour Clavecinistes’ to include a number of important works by eminent composers including Beethoven. Yet Nägeli and Beethoven famously did not get an (the publisher added a few Bars of his own to Beethoven’s music, and although he asked originally for four sonatas, Beethoven supplied him with just the three of his Op. 31).
So this collection begins with Beethoven’s `Tempest’ Sonata, in a performance that appears to acknowledge performance practice of the time (that is to say, the early 1800s), a reading that is above all intensely musical and entirely at one with the Spirit of the music. Sona Shaboyan is a fine Beethoven interpreter – of that, there can be little doubt: her account of the tempestuous Finale is undeniably exciting. Of the three sonatas in this set, Beethoven’s (with three movements, lasting 22 minutes) is by far the shortest in terms of playing time. The `Grand Sonata in C major’ (as originally titled) by Franz Xaver Schnyder von Wartensee (1786-1868, the longest-living of these three composers) would appear to date from c. 1814 (the otherwise interesting booklet notes by Dominique Ehrenbaum are unforthcoming with such details). Schnyder von Wartensee certainly knew Beethoven and was something of a speculative composer: among his last works is a ‘toy symphony’ (1868), and he provided a cadenza to Beethoven’s Op. 37 Concerto (surely unnecessary, when Beethoven had written one himself). Thankfully, Schnyder von Wartensee published an autobiography, in which he describes his trip to Vienna in 1811 to continue his studier, and his meetings with Beethoven.
There are several unusual features in Schnyder von Wartensee’s Sonata, of which the most interesting would appear to be a Waltz for the third movement (highly unusual for the period, although not yet of a recognizably Viennese stamp). The first movement is structurally straightforward, if not texturally so: Shaboyan intelligently takes the first-movement repeat – very necessary when the recapitulation is so fascinatingly canonic.
Despite the many intriguing details of this work, one may doubt if it is an entirely organic score, such as would have detained Beethoven long, but there are two quite remarkably fugal sections in the finale (by far the longest movement in the work) which would undoubtedly have excited Beethoven’s attention, as indeed the whole of the Liste Sonata would have. Anton Liste (1772-1832 – therefore, an almost exact contemporary of Beethoven) is a most interesting figure, 74a composer, Pianist, choral conductor and enthusiastic freemason. It was Schnyder von Wartensee who took Liste’s then recently published A major Grande Sonate to Beethoven, who would surely have been impressed with the dedication of this massive work.
Liste’s Grande Sonate — its four movements play for 55 minutes — may be an a scale larger than the `Hammerklavier’, but it is certainly worth the attention of those who are attracted to early Romantic piano music. The influence of Beethoven is clearly not so far away, and there is a (surely genuine) tribute to the master with a quotation from the finale of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata at the opening of the second movement, but Liste’s music additionally breathes a Schubertian air, as well as that of Weber, and even occasionally Looks towards early Chopin. One could well believe that Alkan knew this work, in terms of its scale and breadth, and it is not too difficult to imagine Moscheles and Mendelssohn, as well as the Young Liszt, playing Liste’s music — it is very much of its period. In terms of formal structure, it is interesting that the slow second movement plays for just eight out of those 55 minutes, and the third movement —a rather cumbersome, undanceable `Menuetto’ — has some remarkably original overall features. The 20-minute finale is the most interesting and forward-looking movement. It is an astonishing conception, demanding much from the Pianist in terms of structural coherence, and Shaboyan is fully up to her formidable task, delivering a performance that I found consistently compelling — quite apart from the ‘newness’ of the music.
All in all, this is, as I hope to have indicated, musically a very important release which deserves serious attention from all music lovers of the period.
Robert Matthew-Walker