IVES Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord” BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 31, op.110 — Reed Tetzloff (pn) Emi Ferguson (fl) — MASTER PERFORMERS 22001 (70:14)
I am old enough to remember when a performance or recording of Charles Ives’s “Concord” Sonata was an event. While a new recording may not yet be commonplace, neither is it rare. The young American pianist Reed Tetzloff has a great deal of competition, and one pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, has even recorded it twice.
By combining Beethoven’s penultimate sonata with Ives’s second, Tetzloff has chosen to underline the relationship between the two composers. To begin with, the famous four-note motto that opens Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a thread that runs throughout the “Concord” Sonata. Both composers stretched the musical boundaries that existed when they began composing and wrote their own new musical laws. Tetzloff concludes his perceptive booklet note with this: “Beethoven and Ives did indeed invade the unknown. They knocked on the door of the divine mysteries, confident that they were worthy to look inside. Yet, the greatest miracle lies in how they revealed to us, through mere notes on the page, a glimpse of what they saw.”
Although both of these works can encourage the tempestuous side of a pianist, Tetzloff emphasizes the more lyrical and poetic aspects of the music. Do not take this to imply a lack of drama. The pianist refers in his notes to the “heaven storming outbursts of Ives’s Emerson [movement],” and he delivers these outbursts with plenty of power. But where some other pianists come off almost brittle in the way they articulate the music, Tetzloff’s playing is forceful without ever turning harsh. His tempi are slightly slower than the norm, but it is the transparency of his textures and the warmth of his touch that stand out. Hamelin also avoids brittleness, particularly in his second recording, but at his fast speeds the music takes on a breathless quality. With Pierre-Laurent Aimard (along with Hamelin’s a recording favored by many) the emphasis is also on clarity of texture, though to my ears Tetzloff adds a degree of warmth and a wider range of colors. Emi Ferguson’s flute solo in the concluding “Thoreau” movement is lovely.
As with the Ives, if you are looking for heaven-storming Beethoven, you should look elsewhere in op. 110. Tetzloff takes a more inward-looking and meditative approach. In his review of a Schumann disc in Fanfare 45:1, Huntley Dent writes about how “maturely Tetzloff approached such a fascinating, whimsical, impetuous, self-divided genius as Schumann.” It is that same mature intellect that impresses me about the pianist’s approach to the two sonatas here. He has thought deeply about all aspects of these pieces and given us fresh-sounding performances.
The 45-page booklet that comes with the disc contains a comprehensive note by Jan Swafford along with Tetzloff’s notes. It also (and this might be a first) gives us biographies not only of Tetzloff, flutist Ferguson, and producer Steven Epstein, but also of annotator Swafford, recording engineer Rick Jacobsohn, and piano technician John Von Rohr! The piano sound is completely natural.
Five stars: Beautiful performances of Sonatas by Ives and Beethoven