Veteran pianist Andrew Rangell has had a long career building unusual programs of Romantic music that find direct ways of communicating with audiences, and he makes a natural choice for the Steinway & Sons house piano-music label. Here he devises an effective mixture of Beethoven
sonatas and lesser-known works, which he rightly argues are too often collected into sets of their own rather than programmed with sonatas in explorations of the relationships among the great and the small. Some of his lesser-known works are in fact almost unheard obscurities, such as the "24 Variations on Righini's Venni amore, WoO 65," composed by the 20-year-old Beethoven in 1790. It is a delightfully ambitious variation set that fully prefigures the better-known ones from later in Beethoven's career, and Rangell plays it for all it's worth. Many of the other small pieces are equally good. Some seem as though they were on their way to being sonata movements. There are two other variation sets, one of them on "Rule, Brittania!," and one big public showpiece, the "Polonaise in C major, Op. 89," written for the dignitaries attending the Congress of Vienna in 1814. Other gems include a bagatelle (for Beethoven, this term perversely seems to have indicated an especially experimental little piece) and a couple of fascinating, inward, late works that could easily have found their ways into the late "Op. 126" bagatelle sets. The four sonatas, including the "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight)," are well-chosen for this context; each of them consists, at least mostly, of collections of shorter movements defined experimentally by mood or texture rather than by extensive sonata forms. The mood is broken a bit by the inclusion of a transcription, Rangell's own, of the "Allegretto ma non troppo" from the "String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95." Nonetheless, a fascinating Beethoven recital, beautifully recorded at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.