BEETHOVEN: PIANO SONATAS, OP.31
Ludwig van Beethoven
THOMAS SAUER, piano
"From the evidence of this album, taking into account both his recorded performances and his enlightening booklet notes, Thomas Sauer would seem to be very much a thinking man’s pianist. Considering that the subject is Beethoven, that is not a bad thing to be.
Armed with one of the truest legatos I’ve ever heard on record, Sauer wastes no time clearing up some misconceptions about the three Opus 31 Sonatas, Nos. 16-18 in the Beethoven canon. Beginning with the Sonata in G major, he uses his supple yet authoritative left hand to demonstrate how Beethoven’s deliberately out-of-synch hands not only create a humorous “hurry up and wait” impression when the dogged chords in the left hand are contrasted with scampering downhill octaves in the right, but, together with a downbeat and a syncopated leap to the second subject, constitute the basic subject matter of the movement. The fragile and songlike lyricism of the slow movement, Adagio grazioso, is revealed as something considerable above the glass chandelier pianistics of so many of Beethoven’s contemporaries. Sauer takes the final allegretto with all the buoyant good feeling it deserves, recapturing the hands-apart humor of the opening movement.
Does Sauer score his most striking interpretation in the Sonata in D minor (No. 17), often called, on slender authority, “The Tempest,” or does it just seem that way because this is the one of the set that is best-known to me? There is certainly a whirlwind of passionate utterance, clipped by a severe ending, in the final Allegretto, though the equally engaging drama in the opening movement, marked Largo / Allegro is more that of mysterious hesitations, descents and cadences. Here, and in the Adagio, Sauer invests the music with a mood of aristocratic restraint, playing as softly and slowly as I have ever heard this slow movement.
The Sonata in E-flat major, last of the set of three, opens with more of Beethoven’s unique touches, including a chordal rhythm of short-short-short-long note values that surprisingly provides the motivic seed for much of the movement. There is no slow movement, just a tasteful pair of inner movements in moderate time, Allegro and Minuet, that Sauer takes exactly as written to give them their due proportions. The finale, marked Presto con fuoco (with fire), breathes a mood of spirited celebration and vivacity. Some observers hear hunting calls in this music, others a Tarantella; without taking sides, Sauer allows us to imagine both.
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta - October 2012
"[Sauer] delivers the music cleanly and straightforwardly...Many of the agreeable moments are born out of his impeccable touch, particularly his détaché in high registers... Others emerge as he demonstrates his knack for making even Beethoven’s most generic melodic and accompanimental ideas sound interesting."
Auerbach, American Record Guide - July/August 2011
"Thomas Sauer...offers a well-played set of performances... The MSR recording is good... This new recording will certainly have its appeal."
Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International - July 2011
"[Thomas Sauers] displays formidable finger-work and great clarity of texture with occasional subtle rubato, always appropriate to music of this period. Sauer observes Beethoven's dynamic and expressive markings with meticulous detail. [He] gives excellent, first class performances of these sonatas with great attention to detail as in the score, together with much beautiful playing."
Geoffrey Molyneux, MusicWeb International - July 2011
"[Thomas Sauer is] an accomplished pianist who is especially successful with the quirky humor found in Sonatas Nos. 16 and 18. In these works, his approach is understated and wry, with a discreet wink of the eye rather than the kick in the pants of some players. Everything is measured and in good taste, without exaggerations of tempo or dynamics. Certainly this is ideal in the first and second movements of both works, in which he finds an almost Mozartean elegance and transparency. His varied touches in the Adagio grazioso of No. 16 are executed with an etcher’s precision, with leggiero playing that a Gieseking might envy, and the tricky dynamic changes in the second movement of No. 18 are perfect. In the lovely, easygoing finale of No. 16 he points up the Schubertian touches in the piano writing... Sauer never seems to get carried away with the music beneath the notes, but instead we get wonderful control, perfect balances, and just dabs of pedal... Sauer is alert to the decay of each sound, and his balances and tempo always seem perfect."
Charles Timbrell, Fanfare - July/August 2011
"Sauer is mindful of the emotional range [Op. 31 No. 3], and he produces more color, catching the shifting moods quite tellingly here. In the case of all these sonatas, there is so much recorded competition that any new recording must be special indeed to stand out, but Sauer pretty much holds his own against competitors..."
Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition - May 2011
"Thomas Sauer has recorded Beethoven's three Op.31 Sonatas impressively. Sauer plays with fine technique and real understanding. If you're looking for a recording of the [complete] Op.31 Sonatas, this recording will more than suffice."
Turok's Choice, No.232 - May 2011
After publishing the three Piano Sonatas Op. 31 – his seventh collection of three instrumental works – Beethoven issued just one more such grouping, the three String Quartets Op. 59. Since the beginning of instrumental music publishing in the first years of the eighteenth century, it had been commonplace to present works in groups of twelve, six, and later three. Why did Beethoven stray from this practice? While he undoubtedly earned more money selling single works to publishers, he may ultimately have been destined to change prevailing market practices for artistic reasons. Present already in the three Piano Trios Op. 1 and amply evident in the sonatas on this disc is Beethoven’s tendency to differentiate character and rhetoric especially strongly in works that he composed concurrently. In this connection, Charles Rosen is undoubtedly on the mark when he characterizes the three sonatas of Op. 31 in turn as comic, tragic and lyric.
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American pianist Thomas Sauer is highly sought after as soloist, chamber musician and teacher. Sauer’s recent appearances include concerto performances with the Quad-City Symphony and Greenwich Village Orchestra; solo-recital performances at Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium), Merkin Concert Hall, Rockefeller University, and St. John’s College, Oxford; appearances on Broadway as the pianist in 33 Variations, a play about Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations; and performances at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. With his long-time duo partner Colin Carr, Sauer has performed at the Wigmore Hall, Holywell Music Room in Oxford, the Musikgebouw in Amsterdam, Bargemusic in New York and at Princeton University, among others. He has also given duo recitals with Midori at the Philharmonie in Berlin and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, performed with members of the Juilliard String Quartet at the Library of Congress and given numerous concerts with the Brentano String Quartet. Sauer has performed at many of the leading festivals in the United States and abroad, including Marlboro, Caramoor, Music@Menlo, Chamber Music Northwest, El Paso Pro Musica, and the Chamber Music Festivals of Seattle, Taos, Four Seasons in North Carolina, Portland and Salt Bay in Maine, as well as Lake District Summer Music in the UK and Festival des Consonances in France. In recent seasons, Sauer has premiered works by Philippe Bodin, Robert Cuckson, Sebastian Currier, Keith Fitch, David Loeb, Donald Martino and David Tcimpidis. His varied discography includes Haydn piano sonatas (MSR), Hindemith sonatas with violist Misha Amory (MHS), Britten and Schnittke with cellist Wilhelmina Smith (Arabesque), music of Ross Lee Finney with violinist Miranda Cuckson (Centaur) and Mozart violin sonatas with Aaron Berofsky (Blue Griffin).
Currently a member of Vassar College’s music faculty and Mannes College’s piano faculty, Sauer is the founder and director of the Mannes Beethoven Institute. His major teachers included Jorge Bolet, Edward Aldwell and Carl Schachter.
PIANO SONATA NO. 16 IN G MAJOR, OP. 31, NO. 1
PIANO SONATA NO. 17 IN D MINOR, OP. 31, NO. 2 (“THE TEMPEST”)
PIANO SONATA NO. 18 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, OP. 31, NO. 3
Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
Menuetto: Moderato e grazioso
Presto con fuoco