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Beethoven - The Last Sonatas / Gerardo Teissonniere

Release Date: 03/04/2022
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30188
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:  Gerardo Teissonnière Number of Discs: 1

Regarded by international critics and audiences as an artist of extraordinary musicianship and rare sensibility and tracing his musical roots to Alfred Cortot, Artur Schnabel and Alexander Siloti, Gerardo Teissonnière brings to the concert stage an exciting amalgam of the diverse and important pianistic traditions he represents.

Transcendental, dramatic, melodic and stylistic elements are present in each of Beethoven’s final three transcendental piano sonatas, and Teissonnière delivers them and more, revealing lyrical, personal interpretations while maintaining faithfulness to the original sources and scores.

Album Credits:
Recorded September 7-9, 2021 at Sono Luminus Studios,
Read more Boyce, Virginia.
Recording Producer: Elaine Martone, Sonarc Music
Editing: Erica Brenner and Daniel Shores
Recording, Mixing and Mastering Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Photography: Dario Acosta
Production Assistant: Renée Oakford
Piano: Steinway & Sons Model D #590904
Piano Technician: John Veitch

Elegance, refinement, and technical perfection are the hallmarks of performances of Beethoven’s final three piano sonatas by Gerardo Teisonnière on a new Steinway & Sons CD. Teisonnière’s readings show remarkable understanding of the individuality of these masterpieces, while at the same time indicating his knowledge of where they fit into Beethoven’s creative life and into the sonata literature in general. After Beethoven scaled genuinely Olympian heights with his two piano sonatas marked Hammerklavier – Op. 101 of 1816 and the better-known, much-larger Op. 106 of 1818 – he essentially used his final three sonatas to explore the summit he had attained. It is not that these works are absent of striving but that their exploratory elements give them a kind of relaxed triumphalism (to the extent that such a thing is possible) that stands in stark contrast with the ever-upward clawing and frequent cragginess of the slightly earlier works. Created from 1820 to 1822, Sonatas Nos. 30-32, Opp. 109-111, sound entirely different from each other, yet all seem to inhabit the same world, one in which Beethoven gazes from the heights at all that surrounds him and allows himself to revel in his hard-won achievements, if not quite to relax within them. Teisonnière’s performances all couple this sense of attainment after great struggle with sensitive exploration of the intricacies of each of these sonatas and the differences among them. No. 30 is an intimate work, the tempo designation of its finale – Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo – standing for the overall impression it leaves. It is toward this finale that the sonata, like many other Beethoven works, builds, and it is to Teisonnière’s credit that he fully explores the finale’s lyricism while not downplaying the importance of the first two movements (which are, in effect, a single movement, being linked by the pedal at the end of the first). The contrasts within the final theme and variations are especially well-conveyed. Sonata No. 31 is emotionally quite different: it is a work of communicative extremes, containing despair, euphoria and everything in between. Again, Beethoven here builds toward the finale, bringing a first-movement theme to fruition at the conclusion and, not incidentally, creating a fugal finale in which the rather academic, straitlaced form takes on substantial emotional intensity that allows the work to end in dramatic fashion. Again, Teisonnière’s sensitivity to details of the music makes his performance highly convincing: there is delicacy aplenty when called for, lots of pianistic power when needed, and a sure sense of the sonata’s underlying structure that allows Teisonnière to explore the work’s many moods while keeping the totality cohesive. Sonata No. 32 contains both the fugal elements of No. 31 and the variations of No. 30; it is filled with lyrical elements akin to those of No. 30, and also with the passion and intensity of No. 31; but it incorporates all these musical aspects into something that sounds genuinely new, even for Beethoven – notably with the difficulty of preserving the underlying rhythms of the second movement’s variations, handling the complexities of that movement’s note-value changes, and figuring out what to do with the highly syncopated section that sounds so jazz-like to many modern listeners. The complexity of the second movement – following a dramatic first movement that neatly sets up a strong contrast between the sonata’s two parts – leads to a closing passage of quiet tranquility that is, in this context, almost mystical in effect. Teisonnière successfully navigates the movement’s considerable difficulties without apparent strain, but makes it clear that the calm of the work’s end has been difficult to achieve – a very effective conclusion, capping a very effective exploration of these three remarkable works.

- Infodad

Each art form has its own version of Mount Olympus, and in music, the last three sonatas of Beethoven offer a transcendent vista entirely their own. Gerardo Teissonnière, a pupil of masters themselves in the Artur Schnabel and Alfred Cortot tradition, initiated his ascent 7-9 September 2021 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia. The cumulative result stands as an essentially lyric realization of compressed, highly subjective compositions that revel in idiosyncratic counterpoint, variation technique, harmonic audacity, and bravura impulses in trills, rhythmic flexion, and melodic expressivity. The E Major Sonata (1820/21) receives from Teissonnière an opulent sonority, lavishing no end of pearly play in the course of the abbreviated first movement, Vivace ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo. He takes the two opening subjects as demanded, Sempre legato, so the natural tension of the diminished sevenths in the second theme seems assuaged by the articulation of the arpeggiated figures. Doubtless, an emotional menace saturates the ensuing and jarring Prestissimo second movement, 6/8, set in the minor mode of E, with a countersubject in B Minor but no real trio section. The fierce polyphony reflects Beethoven’s intense look at Handel, especially as that master would influence Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and the Overture to the Consecration of the House.

Teissonnière takes the opening Andante of the last movement very slowly, savoring its melodic contour in eight measures in triple time as the source for a revelatory series of variations. The real rhythmic propulsion enters at Variation 3, in scales forte allegro. Teissonnière makes delicacy of touch a major concern, which instills a lucent clarity to the evolution of the themes, now having assumed the sense of an original improvisation. The 9/8 Variation has shapeliness and grace. The application of repeated, rocking figures and pedal effects creates an epic tension-and-release, leading to a martial variant No. 5, Allegro, in strict counterpoint, here performed with resonant force. For the last variation, the pedal has become a major factor, establishing the dominant harmony while trills and thick scalar motions contribute to a climax, whose disarming reappearance of the original melody, resonates with stately, etched, renewed simplicity.

Teissonnière establishes a richly ornamented exposition, Moderato – Cantabile espressivo, for the 1822 Sonata in A-flat Major, with its juxtaposition of dynamic contrasts, broad, flowing melodic tissue, con amabilità, against minor key anxiety, especially in the boldly enunciated bass line. The gentle pulsations take us to a remote locale in E Major in the circuitous course back to A-flat. Yet, the initial, lyric impulse has never ceased even while maintaining Haydn’s sense of sonata form. The pregnant pauses increase the sense of hallowed ground, enriched by arpeggios, descending scalar motion, and considered appoggiaturas. The final cadence over a tonic pedal seems a consummation devoutly to be wished.

A marcato gravity opens the F Minor Allegro molto, a scherzo utilizing a kind of antiphon between piano and forte, set in highly punctuated syncopes. The leaping, grumbling D-flat Trio section sounds as if it were teasing us with remnants of folk-tune impulses. The movement reluctantly cedes its motion to a cadence in the tonic major that will abruptly descend to B-flat Minor to open the extraordinary Adagio ma non troppo third movement. Some may find Teissonnière’s slow progress mannered, but the tensile beauty of the melodic line does not sag. The music then sings arioso dolente, a “song of lamentation” according to Beethoven, in A-flat Minor. The three-voice Fuga then appears, built upon three parallel rising fourths separated by two falling thirds. Some find in the sighing figures in G Minor a melancholy uttered in Bach’s St. John Passion. With Teissonnière, we seem to be groping for the light, the bass clamoring in agony in 27 repeated chords. Suddenly, the gloom yields to G Major, the fugue subject inverted and progressing in descending fourths – a gambit not lost on the later Scriabin – until we move into a glorious realm of spiritual liberation.

A sense of rage begins the Sonata No. 32 in C Minor (1822), Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato. Here, Teissonnière exploits his own bravura capacity for motor power and its inverse, the sudden impulse to subito and halt the motion with lyrical, musing figurations. The explosive momentum easily recalls equally potent moments from Clara Haskil and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Counterpoint itself seems merely a means of intensifying the hopeless catapult into the abyss. The hands scurry in unison might indicate a skeletal loss of faith in the midst of the mortal storm, a fury that extends over six octaves. The coda, too, suffers a kind of spiritual entropy, taking five octaves to exhaust itself.

The huge second movement, Arietta – Adagio – Molto semplice e cantabile, opens in compressed, elegiac steps, with two octaves’ serving to separate the right-hand melody from the bass set in intimations of mortality. All subsequent, variant evolutions develop organically out of the original materials, a distillation of techniques and sonic maneuvers the expand the range of keyboard to express what well may truly ineffable. Variation three has been called a forerunner of jazz motifs, having emerged from the dotted figures of the second variation two. If Schumann were to review this performance, he might claim that Florestan had overwhelmed Eusebius, so intent is Teissonnière on projecting power over intimacy and inwardness. For the juxtapositions of soft and loud pages, this approach proves dramatic. Now, we await our muscular guide to soften the music into poetry, to allow the high registers, low tremolos, and the trains of trills – another influence on our friend Scriabin – to shed the mortal coil and illuminate the aether. And Teissonnière succeeds, allowing the bass to “cushion” the material world with a renewed sense of mystery. Laus Deo.

-- Audiophile Audition

In many ways the current state of world affairs is strikingly similar to those Beethoven was experiencing as he entered his Late Period, which coincided with the defeat of Napoleon, the reinstatement of the monarchy, and economic depression.

In spite of this, as pianist Gerardo Teissonnière writes in the liner notes of his recent recording Beethoven The Last Sonatas, “These three extraordinarily diverse works present us with some of the composer’s most beautiful, innermost, surprising, and transcendental musical expressions.”

If you were thinking that perhaps the world doesn’t need another recording of Op. 109, 110, and 111, think again. During the 69 minutes of the recording, released on the Steinway label, Teissonnière brings a crystalline sound, formidable technique, and exquisite musical taste to his interpretations.

The first thing that piques the ear during Sonata No. 30 in E is that Teissonnière allows the musical lines to breathe. This trait provides a welcome relief from the all-too-common caffeine-induced performances of the work by younger, less experienced players.

The pianist also doesn’t try to smooth over Beethoven’s often jagged lines, but rather he embraces those idiosyncrasies. This approach serves him well during the sonata’s brief second movement, Prestissimo. In the statement of the third-movement theme, the pianist’s articulations are superb — the simple line always moving forward. And during the variations, Teissonnière simply lets the story unfold without fuss. He doesn’t try to wow you with his immense technique. Instead, he entices you with his thoughtful attention to the score.

In the opening of Sonata No. 31 in A-Flat, the technical right-hand passages over steady left-hand chords are truly classy, and in the recurring theme the pianist takes time at all of the right moments. The coda sparkles, and the final two chords are beautifully voiced.

Lasting only two-plus minutes, the second movement is a fun romp. In the third the pianist examines Beethoven’s innermost thoughts until the big fugue arrives. Here the composer’s numerous moods come to the fore, and Teissonnière is more than happy to explore them.

In his liner notes, the pianist describes these last sonatas as a “triptych that extends the limits of musical and pianistic convention and imagination, introducing new technical and tonal elements to the instrument for which they were written and changing the traditional boundaries of the classical sonata form for future generations of composers.”

While this observation certainly applies to all three works, these sentiments are fully realized in Sonata No. 32 in c. Consisting of two contrasting movements, the sonata takes a circuitous and at times ambiguous path that Teissonnière seems to enjoy.

In the second movement, “Arietta and five variations,” he has no problems playing to 21st-century ears. For example, in the third variation, he relishes the swinging melodic line that foreshadows ragtime by over 70 years.

Throughout the movement the pianist encourages listeners to stop over-analyzing and simply enjoy the genius of Beethoven’s music, which he has brilliantly unscrambled and plays with a self-possessed flair. The twinkling trills near the end beckon the skies to open as Teissonnière brings the sonata to conclusion with a single, beautifully balanced chord. There’s nothing more to say.

-- Cleveland Classical

Pianist Gerardo Teissonnière has performed in many countries and is well-known as a teacher at his alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Music, but he has apparently not recorded until this album, released by Steinway & Sons in 2022. The Beethoven sonata market is, of course, crowded, and even more so around the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. However, this magisterial release has no problem standing out. Teissonnière was a student once removed of both Artur Schnabel and Alfred Cortot, and his readings of Beethoven's three transcendent final sonatas evoke those players in the sense of the sustained ecstasy Teissonnière brings to the music. His tempi are on the slow side, but the music never feels self-consciously monumental. It is filled with small details that the pianist brings out with changes in articulation or momentary pauses. The big final variation sets of the Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, and Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, are beautifully crafted, but what's remarkable is how Teissonnière builds introductory movements to match them, with a lyrical opening movement to Op. 109, that looks far forward into the 19th century, and a furious Op. 111 Maestoso - Allegro, whose rage seems to dissolve as the finale begins. Steinway records Teissonnière not in one of its usual New York halls but at the Sono Luminus studios in Virginia, with splendidly detailed results. A landmark recording.

-- AllMusic Guide

Apart from the early days of the gramophone, there can’t be many instances of pianists making their recording debut at the age of 60. Such is the case with the Puerto Rican, US based pianist, Gerardo Teissonnière, but I would prefer to dwell on his musical abilities rather than his age. These particular sonatas have always drawn young guns to try their luck with them in the recording studio, with generally mixed results, so the first thing to be said about this recording is there is definitely truth in the wisdom of experience. These are mature, seasoned accounts of all three sonatas which are refreshingly free of point making for the sake of being seen to be making a point.

On the evidence of this disc, Teissonnière’s musical personality tends toward the Olympian as distinct from the Apollonian or the Dionysian. There is no sense of the impulsive, for example, in an exemplary account of the opening movement of Op 109. This helps enormously with the onward flow of the musical argument. I enjoyed the way he colours the music here. This is not a gruff Beethoven raised on wild honey and wearing a goatskin. Overall Op 109 is the most successful of these three performances of the final three Beethoven sonatas. In itself, this speaks of what a fine musician Teissonnière is, as this is, by some margin, the trickiest of the late sonatas to pull off. The middle movement seems less serious in tone than usual and this seems appropriate to Teissonnière’s more mellow conception of the piece. In the finale, I think he judges the tempo just right. Taken too fast, as Tovey warned, and it can sound vapid, not least when set next to Op110 and Op 111, but taken too slowly, as many younger pianists striving after profundity do, it ends up turgid.

On the debit side there are a few moments of rhythmic uncertainty and hesitation that really ought to have been picked up by the production team. They don’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Op 109 but they do become a bit more of an issue in Op 110, particularly in the opening movement. This ought to flow like a clear mountain stream but here sounds oddly disjointed. The many changes of tempo don’t seem either wholly integrated or wholly organic. The opening theme in particular seems bumpy next to my favourite recording by Solomon. This is a real pity since Teissonnière’s account of the finale is terrific. As with Solomon, his slight underplaying of the Handelian aria of the slow section of this movement renders it more not less affecting. If he doesn’t quite achieve the sense of exultant inevitability right at the end that Solomon achieves he at least gets within touching distance.

This is not the darkest rendering of the opening movement of Op111 you will ever hear though it has plenty of energy. I was reminded somewhat of Wilhelm Kempff’s pianism in the faster sections where both pianists emphasis clarity and lightness of touch. I did miss something of the frenzy of, say, Schnabel in this movement just as I felt I wanted more darkness to set against the finale’s serene light. Teissonnière’s unflappable calmness is of a piece with his approach to all three sonatas. His account of the finale may not be as transcendent as some but it has a welcome breadth and its less otherworldly manner brings warmer consolations. The way the end of the first movement vanishes into the heavens to usher in the second is beautifully done.

Craziness is an essential feature of this music and it is this quality I miss most in these fine interpretations. In the finale of Op 111 it is the quality that raises Beethoven’s vision to the highest heights. Much as I enjoyed Teissonnière’s performances they are at bottom just a little bit well behaved. I should say that this is all relative. By no means are they dull or unengaging. Far from it. Lovers of Kempff in these sonatas will find a lot to enjoy, not least because the piano sound if a little close is superb. Let’s hope Teissonnière enjoys an extensive Indian summer in the studio!

-- MusicWeb International

Listening to Beethoven’s final three piano sonatas is a bit like completing a triathlon. As Beethoven seals his collection of 32 sonatas with the stamp of a gentle C major chord, the listener sorts through a range of emotions and ideas that are both exhausting and exhilarating. So much more so for the artist who has memorized these works of complexity, delicacy and power. Just the act of internalizing these three sonatas, which seem mystically interconnected, is enough to inspire our awe and appreciation.

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and a student of disciples of Schnabel and Cortot, Gerardo Teissonnière brings a unique interpretation of the Late Sonatas which commands our attention, though some listeners may find speed bumps along the way.

Listening to the affable opening in Piano Sonata n° 30 in E major, Opus 109, I recalled a popular anecdote in which Beethoven himself once characterized the playing of Mozart as being too choppy with not enough legato. This observation could be made against this performance as well, at least in parts of the first movement and the two sonatas to follow. After a smooth conversational gambit between the right and left hands in the first movement, the sonata travels over some rough terrain, but with enough elegantly turned phrases to offer balance. The long “Andante” with variations that concludes the 30th sonata glows warmly under Teissonnière’s gentle touch, though the 32nd notes in the bass in the penultimate minutes may be too dominant (this could be a recording issue).

In the Piano Sonata n° 31 in A-Flat major, Opus 110, Teissonnière provides balanced readings of the first two movements, leading into Beethoven’s complex, deliciously inexplicable writing in the “Adagio, ma non troppo”. Especially well played are the breathtaking moments between the recitative and the radical key change from flats to sharps and back again, sounding at times like the human voice in prayer or love (though undedicated, scholars speculate that the last two sonatas were to be dedicated to one of the composer’s great loves, Antonie Brentano). From this point onward, Beethoven takes us to a land of flats and triplets where it is best not to puzzle too deeply but let the pianist’s wizardry carry us unresisting to unimaginable heights.

The last movement of the 31st and both movements of the 32nd Sonatas make Herculean demands on the pianist, but there are some moments disarming in their simplicity, such as the nine G chords separated by rests that rise majestically from pianissimo to fortissimo in the third movement of the Opus 110. Here, Teissonnière’s strong suit—his power and strength—yields impressive returns in creating a memorable musical experience. This is especially true in the “Arietta”, the final movement in Opus 111, and the last of all of Beethoven’s piano sonata movements.

The pianist caresses the keys in a sort of lullaby in the first minutes of this valedictory. But Beethoven is not closing the sonata playbook just yet until he has completely dazzled and exhausted our senses. Despite the demands of Opp. 109 and 110, Teissonnière offers an impressive technical rendering of the last movement’s variations. I was impressed with his performance of the dainty 32nd note triplets that twinkle in the stratosphere of the work’s final pages. But I could not help recalling other performances in which they had a heart-stopping icy brilliance. These passages and the trills that seem to go on forever, beyond human limitations, create a kind of aural aurora borealis that opens a door in those final measures, a door to a world beyond comprehension and without end.

Congratulations and thank you to Gerardo Teissonnière for gifting us his own vision of Beethoven as expressed in the Late Sonatas. Each listener will cherish this interpretation in their own way, and all will find within its dimensions something of beauty and value.

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