Continuing a succession of outstanding albums, concert pianist Susan Merdinger has released this recording of piano sonatas from the late Classical Period, including works chronologically from Haydn, Mozert, and Beethoven.
In the event you don't know much about Ms. Merdinger, the following information from her Web site might be helpful: "The daughter of a talented pianist/painter, Susan first heard strains of classical piano music before she was even born. Inheriting her Mother's artistic sensibilities and her Father's mathematical mind and enormous hands, playing the piano came very naturally, but it was her passion, hard work, and dedication to music that contributed to her prodigious ability.
"Performing her sold-out solo recital debut at Carnegie Recital Hall at age twenty-four, as a Winner of Artists International, Merdinger has continued to grace the stages of some of the world's best concert halls including Merkin Concert Hall, Diligentia Hall in the Hague, Henry Wood Concert Hall in Scotland's National Orchestra Center, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Sala Felipe Villanueva in Mexico, Ravinia's Bennett Gordon Hall, the Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, Fullerton Hall at the Art Institute of Chicago, Logan Center for the Arts, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and The Chicago Symphony Center.
"Merdinger completed her formal education at Yale University, the Yale School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Westchester Conservatory of Music, the Ecole Normale de Musique in Fontainebleau, France, and the Chautauqua and Norfolk Music Festivals where she held the coveted Patricia Benkman Marsh Scholarship and the Ellen Battel Stoeckel Fellowship. Susan Merdinger is an Artist Faculty of the Summit Music Festival in New York, and Artistic Director and Founder of Sheridan Music Studio--a private music studio, a record label and professional recording studio, and a collaborative arts agency located in Highland Park and Chicago. Merdinger is a Steinway Artist."
And, of course, she's won a slew of medals for her skills. Now, taking on sonatas by the masters, she again demonstrates her prodigous talents in "The Classical Style II," a term that refers both to the era of music to which Haydn, Mozert, and the early Beethoven belonged and to a book by pianist and historian Charles Rosen. Ms. Merdinger defines the "classical style" as that of "refinement, elegance, restraint, formality and tight organization structure." Yes, they're all here on display in Ms. Merdinger's playing.
Next is the Piano Sonata in C major for One Piano, Four Hands, K. 521, written in 1787 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozert. Ms. Merdinger here is accompanied by longtime collaborator Steven Greene. The three-movement sonata's most notable feature, beyond its writing for four hands, is the operatic nature of its closing Allegretto. Here we have a tour de force from the two artists, each perfectly complementing the other. Apparently, Mozart did not favor either of the piano parts over the other, so both pianists are on equal ground and carry out their assignments with exceptional agility and poise. The result is music rich and full in tone and quality.
The final selection is the Piano Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 22, No. 11, written in 1800 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Coincidentally, several weeks before listening to Ms. Merdinger's account of the sonata, I had listened to James Brawn's version, and I couldn't help notice the differences. Ms. Merdinger's interpretation is a tad quicker than Brawn's and a bit more direct. Brawn is just a touch more leisurely. Perhaps Merdinger keeps us more grounded in the Classical Period whereas Brawn points us more toward the emerging Romantic Age. Whatever, the differences do not make one performance better or worse than the other; they're simply a little different from each another.
Beethoven regarded No. 11 as the best of his early piano sonatas, and it has always remained popular with audiences. Listening to great pianists play it with such apparent ease, one cannot always understand what sublime complexity there is in the piece, probably the culmination of Beethoven's creative genius at the time. As always, it was a delight listening to Ms. Merdinger's rendering of the work. She imbues it with a golden glow, a mellow maturity that brings out the music's inherent brilliance and power. I especially enjoyed the poignant lyricism of the slow second movement. Ms. Merdinger never allows the music to sink into mere sentimentality but keeps it on the level of intelligent reflection. Then there's that closing movement where she sums up everything in virtuosic style. Nicely done all the way around.
Engineer Ryan Streber recorded the sonatas at Oktaven Studios, Mount Vernon, New York in December, 2015. Although the piano seems a bit close, it is most realistic in its clarity and impact. It appears pretty much as a piano might appear live, in front of you, in your listening room. There is no harshness, glare, or brightness to the sound, nor is it soft and mushy. It's well detailed, yet smooth and slightly warm, a pleasure to listen to.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: