Beethoven: Bagatelles, Etc / Linda Nicholson

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BEETHOVEN Bagatelles: op. 33; op. 119; op. 126; in B?, WoO 60; in a, “Für Elise.” Andante in F, “Andante favori.” Rondo a capriccio, op. 129. Allegretto in b, WoO 61 Linda Nicholson (fp) ACCENT 24180 (76:29)

Wow. Wow, wow, wow! Putting this CD on and starting it up will put you into a musical space like no other. And it’s not just because it’s Beethoven, not just because Nicholson plays these short pieces with charm and style, but because she is so completely into the music that she becomes it. In a sense, there seems to be no interpreter here, though it’s obvious that she has given each and every note and phrase of these 29 pieces her complete and undivided attention. There seems to be no interpreter here because I hear, above everything else, Beethoven communicating directly with the listener.

All of the composer’s quirky peasant charm, his introspection, his kinetic energy, his quickly moving musical mind are here. One gets the sense of not listening to a recital, but of hearing the composer compose this music—or, to be more accurate, of having finally coalesced his ideas to the point where the jumble of notes has finally sorted out and progressed from conception to reality. By the time one reaches the last piece on the disc, the annoyingly over-popular “Für Elise,” which I hear as a “ringtone” on more cell phones than I care to count, you just know she’s going to have something new and valid to say about it, and by golly she does. There is nothing of the hackneyed in her performance of this or any of the other works. Her extraordinary command of rubato is subtle, makes sense, and creates a wonderful give-and-take. Everything, as I say, has been rethought; and yet, as I’ve also said, it seems to be rethought through the mind of Beethoven himself.

Fanfare requires comparisons for new recordings of oft-performed material, but I’m hard-put to compare Nicholson to anyone else. Brendel (Philips) is at times more energetic, at others more sustained, but this is clearly an interpretation—excellent, but not entirely Beethoven. Jenö Jandó (Naxos) sounds flaccid by comparison to either. Gould (Sony) slows them down a bit, revels in their skeletal structure, but again, this is an interpretation, not home ground. Of all those playing modern, conventional pianos, John O’Conor (Telarc) comes closest to Beethoven without interpretation—as Nicholson does here. But just try to get a modern piano to simulate the buzzing sound she creates with the bassoon pedal on this instrument, which lowers a piece of parchment onto the lower strings as in op. 119/3. The Bagatelle, op. 119/7, will have you on the edge of your seat—and the music simply drops you off the precipice; it doesn’t let you down easily. To paraphrase jazz pianist Lennie Tristano, she has reached the point where her “fingers sink into the keys and you reach that POW! moment.” Buy, listen, and marvel. This one had me in suspense for the entire 76 minutes. How often can you say that about performances of bagatelles? Oh, the sound quality is absolutely perfect. Even listening through headphones plugged into my computer speakers, Nicholson’s pianoforte (a sensational 1815 model made in Vienna by Johann Fritz) is right there, dancing in your head. Just listen to the range of colors she elicits in the op. 33/5, for instance. Might I be permitted one more “Wow”? This woman is a genius.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ACT24180

  • UPC: 4015023241800

  • Label: Accent

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Performer: Linda Nicholson