“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 album, released on the Steinway label, Teissonnière brings a crystalline sound, formidable technique, and exquisite musical taste to his interpretations.”
Pianist Gerardo Teissonnière: Beethoven’s Last Sonatas
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 album, 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 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.
“Gerardo Teissonnière ascents Beethoven’s Mount Olympus...”
BEETHOVEN: The Last Sonatas: Piano Sonatas Opp 109, 110, 111 – Gerardo Teissonnière, piano – Steinway & Sons 30188 (1/18/22) 69:06 *****
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.”
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
“The world is celebrating the occasion…a spellbinding hour and a half of music!”
“Pianist Gerardo Teissonnière presented a stirring Schubert program early yesterday evening in the intimate atmosphere of Graves Recital Hall. An active international performer, Teissonnière is on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music.
During a spellbinding hour and a half of music, listeners were treated to two piano sonatas and three piano pieces, all performed with distinction. An impressive Schubert interpreter, Teissonnière approaches the literature with confidence, understanding and skill.
These Schubert scores are masterful explorations in complexity of rhythm and mood and contrast in light and dark. Teissonnière met the challenges.
He warmed in particular to the final movement of the opening Sonata in A major, D.664, providing effective crescendos, strong bass underpinnings, and tricky finger work as his hands sailed over the keyboard. In 1828, nearing the end of his short life of 31 years, Schubert penned some of his finest work, the Drei Klavierstucke, D.946 and the Sonata in B flat Major, D.960 among them. In the D.946 set of three, Teissonnière sustained intensity, maintained clarity of texture, brought warmth and beauty to the lyrical passages and gave an impressive delivery of furiously syncopated ones.
The D.960 sonata is a beautiful and complicated masterpiece with a first movement as long as the other three combined. Its theme, as that of the whole work, might be the durability of the human spirit. Teissonnière infused majesty to the somber mood of the slow movement and frenetic energy to the scherzo, which he concluded with a fleeting smile before diving into the virtuosic final movement.”
THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
“Every work on the program claimed immediate appeal, which shouldn’t imply that the music was thin in substance. The pieces by Alberto Ginastera and Manuel de Falla exuded rhythmic flair and seductive lyricism. Much of the music placed its feet in territory where Spanish composers excel, the dances of their regions. These elements were pervasive in the night’s most adventurous score, Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, Op.2, to which Teissonnière brought superb definition of rhythms and colors. In this early work, Ginastera exults in pungent harmonies that add an air of expressive mystery to the lines. The final movement is a cowboy dance full of motoric devices and wild digital flourishes. The pianist was as vibrant in these vigorous outbursts as he was in Ginastera’s sensuous phrases.”
THE SAN JUAN STAR
“Outstanding pianism, rich in dynamic sonorities, poetry and tonal beauty.”
EL NUEVO DIA
“Teissonnière’s performance of the Bach-Busoni and Goyescas could be characterized as almost improvisatory in nature, presented with thorough ease and elegant manner. This is truly an artist of extraordinary musicianship and rare sensibility.”
“Moments of Pure, Poignant Beauty.”
“Fourteen top-class musicians in different chamber music formations with very different pieces, this is what the 2nd master concert of the Artist Faculty at the Sulzbach-Rosenberg International Music Festival (SRIMF) offered. The consistently outstanding quality of the evening thrilled the audience on Thursday. Gerardo Teissonnière opened the evening with Claude Debussy’s ‘Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon,’ ‘Evenings Enlightened by Charcoal.’ This is how the concertgoers really felt in the sun-heated hall, but Teissonnière’s subtle, nuanced playing made them forget the heat. The pianist also collaborated with two big stars who are at home in the ducal city: cellist Misha Quint and Bayreuth contralto Christa Mayer. Quint’s famous singing cello sound flattered Mayer’s warm, sensual alto in two songs by Johannes Brahms. At times sad and expressive, Mayer’s voice filled the room, sometimes tender and sweet, then again with dramatic force. Moments of pure, poignant beauty.”