BEETHOVEN 32 Variations. Piano Sonatas Nos 19 & 20
Magazine Review Date: 10/2015

This disc features a Christopher Clarke instrument (modelled on a Fritz piano from Vienna, c1818), whose well-regulated action and varied timbres will likely attract fortepiano mavens. More importantly, Olga Pashchenko has an exceptional way with Beethoven. She imbues both little Op 49 sonatas with a disarming simplicity that can only be borne out of sophistication. You’ll notice, for example, the subtle yet palpable tension and release in the inflections and accents of No 1’s Rondo and the flexible advantages of playing No 2’s Menuetto with the feeling of one beat to the bar.
Her outstanding rendition of the 32 Variations in C minor boasts many impressive moments, from the suavely dispatched triplet sequences in Vars 19 21 to the spacious, slightly disembodied sonorities that she conjures up in Vars 28 and 30. Pashchenko has obviously invested a good deal of thought and practice time into the G minor Fantasia, Op 77, yet she pounces on the sudden loud declamations and dives into the wild scales, truly evoking the music’s improvisatory genesis.

In contrast with Ronald Brautigam’s engagingly taut and headlong Eroica Variations, Pashchenko zeroes in her attention on individual variations, revealing her fondness for expressive asides in the form of rubato, tenutos and rounding off phrases at the end of major sections. She especially gilds Var 5’s melodic lilies, while her soft-grained broken octaves in Var 6 arguably downplay the urgency of Beethoven’s unexpected reharmonisation of the theme, which Brautigam brilliantly underlines by slightly accelerating the basic tempo. But Var 8 features alluring pedal effects and a cheeky double-note cadenza right after the final fermata, while the fugue’s playful, almost jazzy lightness contrasts with Brautigam’s surging drive. Thicker passages sometimes lose definition with the ambient resonance, yet otherwise the sound is fine.