Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Vol.3 / Leotta

Album cover art for upc 722056248822
Label: ATMA
Catalog: ACD22488
Format: CD

With this volume, Italian pianist Christian Leotta (b.1980) is more than halfway through his complete Beethoven sonata cycle; there are two more volumes ahead. He has organized the cycle so that each two-CD volume contains a selection representing the three periods of Beethoven’s creative life, as can readily be seen in the above headnote. Leotta’s background as a student of the fine pianist/pedagogue Karl Ulrich Schnabel has significantly influenced his interpretive approach to playing Beethoven. Schnabel emphasized the importance of a reliable score, and expected his students to supply themselves with one. (It should be noted that as the modern piano in the second half of the 19th century became as important a fixture in every home as a television set did during the second half of the 20th, publishers brought out often unreliable editions of music as fast as their presses could work.) So it is not surprising to see that Leotta’s credits in the notes include a list of the editions he consulted in preparing the sonatas: a facsimile of the first edition by Tecla, Schnabel (Artur)’s edition, and two of the most scholarly and widely respected of contemporary editions, those published by Henle in Germany and Wiener Urtext in Vienna. I mention this only to underscore my belief that Leotta is a seriously dedicated Beethovenian. In my review of Leotta’s Vol. 2 (Fanfare 34:1), I was struck by his strict adherence to Beethoven’s markings in the music. He observed every nuance of dynamics and phrasing and, especially, pedaling. He has a powerful technique that gives him fluency and strength on the keyboard, and his musical intelligence is compelling. He seemed especially at home with the unbridled energy and vitality of Beethoven’s early sonatas, and so it is on this disc in the third of the op. 2 sonatas and the “Tempest” Sonata. All of Beethoven’s “simple” works are in this set—that is, the two op. 49 “leichte” (easy) sonatas (the Menuetto, the final movement of op. 49/2, achieved popularity in its reincarnation in Beethoven’s Septet, op. 20, composed several years later), and the so-called sonatina, op. 79. Leotta does not breeze through them as if condescending to them, but plays them with the same verve and attention he gives to the other sonatas. Leotta gives a lovely reading of that profound and lyrical jewel in the crown of the late sonatas, the A♭-Sonata, op. 110. The first movement is played simply, almost placidly, a calm prelude to the energetic storm of the scherzo that follows. Then there is the Adagio, and its first statement of the Arioso dolente—a long, expressive lament—followed by the first fugue, which Leotta plays very steadily and clearly, building up to the return of the Arioso, this time transfigured with its little sighing motifs. When the fugue returns again, it is in half voice, empty and emotionless, until it slowly builds again to a massive dramatic climax. A fine and most satisfying performance. The one aspect of Leotta’s playing that I find fault with is his choice of tempos in some slow or moderately slow movements, which are often dragging and too deliberate. In almost all cases, they are considerably slower than Schnabel’s (although one cannot always use Schnabel’s recordings as a yardstick because of the limitations imposed on him when he was recording the sonatas in the early 30s). Still, one always hears in Schnabel’s readings a pushing forward of the music that is important to its flow, and this bears directly on the ultimate shape and interest of the music. Leotta’s personality is different from Schnabel’s, and it is reflected in his tempo choices. But unquestionably this gifted and intelligent young pianist has a great deal to offer, and his Beethoven cycle, when completed, should prove to be of estimable interest.

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