The Corner

True Beethoven

We have posted an interview I did with Ignat Solzhenitsyn. (For the relevant Corner item, go here.) I wanted to mention Ignat’s latest CD — found here. It is of three Beethoven piano sonatas, and an interesting three they are. For generations, it has been a custom to play the last three sonatas: Op. 109, Op. 110, and Op. 111. They are kind of a holy threesome. What Ignat has done is record the three before the last three: Op. 90, Op. 101, and Op. 106. That third one is known as the “Hammerklavier.” As Ignat and I were saying the other day, it is sort of the piano-sonata equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It’s the big kahuna.

The Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, is not very often played, which is kind of a pity. It is brilliant and unusual, in just two movements. The second movement is a surprise: sort of a relaxed, gemütlich Schubertian song. (Schubert was 17 when Beethoven wrote this sonata. He would die the year after Beethoven, at 31. Ignat once pointed out to me a jolting fact: If Beethoven had lived only as long as Schubert, the only symphony we would have from him is the First.)

The Sonata in A, Op. 101, is a glorious thing: It begins with another song, in fact. Then we get, out of the blue, a stirring F-major march. The final movement is dominated by a big, knotty fugue. (Beethoven would close the “Hammerklavier” the same way.)

One does not review friends, but this is a fact: Ignat Solzhenitsyn has a deep understanding of Beethoven, and the technical means to bring out this understanding. He is a great friend to Beethoven, and, of course, Beethoven is a friend to him back (as to us all). You will not go wrong with this CD, I promise you — you will only go right.

Give you a little story, which says something about the pianist’s character. The other week, we met at the theater for Richard III. I said (basically), “I’m pleased about this: Before leaving the office, I had time to scan the Wikipedia entry on Richard III, to remind myself what it’s all about.” Ignat withdrew a paperback from his jacket pocket: He had read the play itself. I, Joe Wiki, said I was reminded of Al Haig — who said, “Go to the source.” His meaning was, “Don’t mess around with these dinky guerrilla movements and juntas. You go to the source — which is primarily Moscow, and secondarily Havana.”

Haig had a brief secretary of stateship — secretaryship of state? — and it is not favorably remembered. But I have long gotten a kick out of him. He was infamous for convoluted speech. Once, during the Falklands crisis, it was leaked that he had referred to his British counterpart, Lord Carrington, as a “duplicitous bastard.” Confronted with this, he denied it: “I could not have said it. It’s far too clear.”


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