A member of the big three, which also includes Bach and Brahms, Ludwig Van Beethoven is one of the most recognizable and iconic figures in classical music. His music has a timeless quality that has allowed it to remain a part of the modern repertoire and to retain a freshness that is as evocative today as when the works were first written in the 1800’s. While many concert goers and casual listeners may know the master composer for his String Quartets and Symphonies, many of which are considered the pinnacle of the genre, Beethoven’s works for piano are just as compelling and prestigious among performers and fans of the piano.
Due to their global popularity and the abundance of performances and recordings featuring Beethoven’s piano works, it is a double-edge sword when one sits down to perform these works in concert or on an album. Yes, listeners want to hear these pieces, but their history immediately puts an artist in comparison with some of the most legendary names in the instrument’s history. On her recently released album Beethoven Dramatic Sonatas, Italian pianist Stefania Passamonte performs Beethoven’s most recognized works for piano at such a high level of technical expertise, musicianship, and emotion that they deserve to stand next some of the most storied recordings made of these historic works.
The album features three of Beethoven’s works for piano, the “Sonata Pathetique,” the “Sonata Apassionata” and “32 Variations in C Minor.” Passamonte’s decision to begin and end the album with works in the same key, C minor, is a testament to the pianists attention to detail and to her desire to maintain the performance aspect of the album. Far too often, classical performers will think about their albums differently than they do a concert program. Those who structure their recordings as well as their performances with the same careful thought are often much more successful than those that do not. Passamonte is an artist who knows the effect that programming can have on the listener’s experience of an album, which is often just as important as the interpretation of each piece. By choosing to bookend the album with works in the same key, she has provided a fully thought out program that provides that extra level of interest to make it a truly standout record in the field.
As a performer, Passamonte’s technique is exquisite throughout, and though other performers would rest on their technical ability to get through pieces such as these, her playing goes well beyond this realm. Passamonte uses her technique to dazzle and to draw the listener in with her flawless runs and lightning fast passages, and then she firmly plants her hooks into them with her emotional interpretation of each piece. Technique and flash may impress an audience for a short period, but it soon gets old. What captivates an audience, both live and on record, is the emotional connection that the performer makes with them during a piece. Passamonte is able to delve into this realm of connection, keeping the listener glued to their speakers on each piece, and wanting more when the last notes fade into the ether.
Passamonte’s performance on this album is absolutely first rate. Featuring marvelous interpretations of these classic works, the Italian pianist uses her highly developed sense of musicianship to bring each note and phrase to life. Though these pieces have been performed countless times over the centuries, in the hands of a master pianist like Passamonte, there is still room for new recordings of these iconic works.