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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Christopher Taylor: A great adventure
Christopher Taylor journeys through Beethoven's piano sonatas
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No classicist.
No classicist.

Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas are the backbone of his output. As with no other genre in which he composed, they run through his life documenting his creative capacities in evolution.

Listening to them all is easy now through recordings, but rarely possible in live performance. To master them all, and then play them (from memory!) in a public series, is both a challenge and an adventure for any pianist. Christopher Taylor, the stellar faculty pianist at the UW School of Music, after a semester sabbatical of intensive study, is now taking us with him on that adventure in a series of 10 recitals in Mills Hall, spread over three months.

Taylor is keeping each program short and concentrated. He avoids a chronological approach, instead mixing the sonatas so that each program traces some span of scope or content connections. The opening program on Feb. 13, for instance, combined three four-movement sonatas: Beethoven's earliest, from the 1790s, one from the edge of his middle period, and the penultimate sonata, from the late period.

Approaching Beethoven, Taylor is clearly no classicist. He is less concerned with precise articulation and more with sweeping lines and dynamic range. Working as if from stylistic hindsight, he imposed upon the "Sonata No. 1" (Op. 2: 1) a certain forced grandeur. In "Sonata No. 13" (Op. 27: 1), partner to the more famous "Moonlight Sonata," Taylor used his exuberant feeling for dynamics to bring out the music's deliberate contrasts. Though he began the "Sonata No. 31" (Op. 110) with suggestions of Chopinesque anticipation, Taylor showed what the modern grand piano, in the truest sense, could bring to Beethoven's potential for powerful last statements. Indeed, Taylor's sometimes overenthusiastic pedaling footwork further made this a real stomper.

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