Julian Haylock, BBC Music Magazine, June 2021, Chamber Choice *****/*****
Incredibly, it is ten years since Viktoria Mullova last recorded Beethoven violin sonatas – a scintillating coupling of Nos 3 and 9 with Kristian Bezuidenhout (ONYX 4050). In terms of their dramatic rethinking of texture, balance, articulation and expression, these performances form a vital part of the bracingly fresh interpretative emphasis on this music evinced by the likes of Faust/Melnikov (Harmonia Mundi), Ibragimova/Tiberghien (Wigmore Hall) and Sepec/Staier (Harmonia Mundi).
Recorded in July last year, Mullova, playing a 1750 Guadagnini with gut strings and a Ralph Ashmead classical bow, and Alasdair Beatson on a replica of an 1805 Walter fortepiano by Paul McNulty, immediately arrest attention with their account of the Op. 23 Sonata that captures its outer movements’ restless A minor hectoring and dynamic explosiveness. With Clive Brown’s new Bärenreiter edition to hand, there is a feeling of a fresh discovery both here and in the elusive, tonic major central Andante, poised between the carefree and hints of the forlorn. More than usual, one is made aware of the profound difference between this scherzoso interlude and the true (Adagio) slow movement of the Spring Sonata, composed at much the same time.
The C minor of Op. 30 No. 2 inspires the most impassioned playing, Mullova using an exquisitely subtle range of vibrato, from a gloriously pure senza to gentle inflections that both soothe and insinuate. Beatson articulates Beethoven’s occasionally menacing bass lines with relish and a palpable sense of opening the fortepiano’s expressive horizons.
David Threasher, Gramophone, June 2021
It’s a mere decade since Viktoria Mullova’s last recorded foray into Beethoven’s violin sonatas (9/10). Then her co-conspirator was Kristian Bezuidenhout; now it is Alasdair Beatson, playing a delicious Paul McNulty copy of an 1805 Viennese Walter fortepiano. In his brief explanatory note, Beatson identifies the intimacy and ‘shared subtleties of articulation and colour’ between the two instruments – Mullova’s gut-strung Guadagnini is addressed with a classical bow – which is appropriate to the music and exploited fully in this recording.
Responsiveness to Beethoven’s detailed markings is a given in readings of this degree of acuity but the range of dynamics in both performance and recording (at Wyastone Concert Hall, very much the Potton Hall of the Welsh Marches) truly brings each moment to life. The opening of the C minor Sonata (Op 30 No 2) lours with a palpable sense of unease, while distant thunder in the piano’s left hand mars the sunny disposition of the SpringSonata’s first movement. The piano never becomes strident, though, retaining a vivid clarity in its bass range and avoiding hints of glassiness in the upper treble.
And Mullova’s playing, its strength and power resting on many years’ association with Beethoven and his music, strikes sparks off not only her piano support but also the sonic purity of her surroundings and the constant, still-challenging invention of each score. Her sound is rich but not creamy, and never lapses into mere beauty for its own sake. Her spectrum of tones, from the merest whisper to full-throated songfulness in lyrical passages, and range of nuance compel the attention throughout.
Among recent recordings of such extremely familiar repertoire, this one must surely rank among the finest.
Bertrand Boissard, Diapason Magazine, September 2021 (5 Diapasons)
Alasdair Beatson, a former student of Menahem Pressler at Indiana University, was recently the recording accomplice of Viktoria Mullova and Johannes Moser. The programme of his first solo album for the Dutch publisher gives the measure of his curiosity.
The beginning of the Carnival of Vienna, fast and clean, full of relief, snapping with an irresistible verve (the left hand!), immediately makes your ears prick up. The controlled effervescence of the Intermezzo brings back the brilliance on which the finale is reformed. After the Schönbergian ramifications, ideally allusive, the Valses nobles et sentimentales compensate by roaring: the frankness prescribed by Ravel is tinged with brutality. The interpretation is valid for the enhancement of a certain crudeness of rhythms and timbres. Particularly neglected, Sonata No. 3 completed in 1931 by Korngold is also his last composition for piano. Alternately fierce, full of panache and impulsive, it delights us with the energy and vitality that Beatson gives it. The Scottish pianist renders even better than Martin Jones the Viennese charm of the Minuetto (initially written as a birthday present for his son Georg, then a baby), just like the exuberance of the Rondo. Schubert’s Kupelwieser Waltz (a wedding present perpetuated by family tradition but never noted down…until it was transcribed by Strauss, who heard it played in 1943) brings a conclusion full of candor and finesse.
Aart van der Wal, Opus Klassiek, August 2021
‘Aus Wien’: a phenomenal album for reasons of composition and performance.
To start with the latter: I had already met this Scottish pianist in September 2019, then together with the cellist Johannes Moser in a recital devoted entirely to Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.
So now ‘Aus Wien’, an exquisite recital that constantly puts the listener on edge and introduces him to the cross-connections anchored in this inventively composed programme: all composers – with the exception of Schumann and Schubert, of course – were strongly connected with the offshoots in their time of the Viennese fin-de-siècle (around 1900). It may come as a surprise that Ravel also belongs in this list, but the music metropolis also attracted French composers (including Poulenc and Milhaud) at the time. Ravel stayed there with, among others, Alma Mahler on the Hohe Warte and liked to play from his own work. You can read it in detail in the Webern biography by Hans and Rosaleen Moldenhauer.
Beatson gives the already great significance of these pieces such a fascinating cachet that with repeated listening more and more facets bubbled to the surface. Fascinating because he plays these pieces really ‘hautnah’, they clearly fit him like a glove, however great the idiomatic differences may be. His flawless technique also means that the listener can focus exclusively on the music. And that is a lot less obvious than it seems.
The recording is as exquisite as this game. Did it also play a role that the pianist also took on the role of ‘executive producer’ together with Kate Rockett of Pentatone? Who’s to say! A special compliment also to the piano technician David Peake who also contributed to making this album an excellent listening feast. The two notes (by Beatson as well as by Mark Berry) also add absolute value to this edition.
Only one tiny wish on my part was not fulfilled: how much I would have loved to have Webern’s condensed ‘Variationen für Klavier’ by this pianist op. 27 heard! The contrast could have been even greater. The playing time of this CD would have allowed it without a doubt, because the piece is already over after about seven minutes.
Julian Haylock, The Strad, November 2019
The opening Allegro assai vivace of Felix Mendelssohn’s D major Cello Sonata (no.2) is one of those vibrantly exhilarating inventions – belonging to the same family as the 1st movements of the String Octet, Bb major String Quintet and D major String Quartet – whose exultant, life-enhancing energy sweeps all before it. Johannes Moser (playing a glorious 1694 Andrea Guarneri) and Alasdair Beatson (on a period Érard dating from 1837) capture the music with unbridled joy and infectious high spirits, as if no finer works for cello and piano existed. Interestingly, their only serious rivals in this respect are Steven Isserlis (on a gut-strung Guadagnini) and Melvyn Tan (who plays a fortepiano) on an outstanding, long-deleted RCA disc. If Isserlis and Tan tend to play with a concert-hall brilliance of projection, Moser and Beatson tend more towards the chamber room. This works especially well in the less explosive Bb major Sonata, whose gentler outlines Moser responds to with a delectable palette of tonal shadings. Not only is all of Felix’s music for cello and piano included here, but we also have his sister Fanny’s G minor Fantasia and her Ab major Capriccio, both exquisite miniatures worthy to stand beside her younger sibling’s creative progeny.
Ken Walton, The Scotsman, September 2019 *****
Mendelssohn’s Sonata No 2 for cello and piano brings an instant smile to the face, a glow to the cheeks, and an irrepressible wish to get out there and soak up the fresh summer air. Especially when it’s played with all the lustre and élan that cellist Johannes Moser and pianist Alasdair Beatson muster in this disc of cello and piano works by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. This sonata and the just as sunny First Sonata are compellingly delivered, uniquely characterised by the delicate virtuosity Beatson elicits from the 1837 Erard grand piano. Other delights include Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny’s Chopinesque Fantasia in G minor and Mendelssohn’s own, charm-filled Variations concertante. The latter’s Albumblatt in B minor, with its strangely ambiguous final cadence, leaves you not only transfixed but longing for more.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian, 22/8/19 ****
The Mendelssohn siblings have suffered from their twin auras of worthiness: Felix’s as the oratorio composer whose works are murdered by a hundred well-meaning choral societies; Fanny’s as the token woman on dozens of concert programmes. Now, though, there is a growing discography helping to shake us into realising how vital and original these composers were. The chamber music, especially Felix’s, has done well recently – and the latest addition is this disc from cellist Johannes Moser and pianist Alasdair Beatson.
Felix’s two cello sonatas are here, the fiercer No 1 and the ebullient No 2, which bursts out of the speakers, the piano getting ever more animated as Beatson sends joyous little flourishes up the keyboard. The muted second movement sounds fun, like some tiptoeing game of hide-and-seek. The earliest of Felix’s works on the disc, the Variations Concertantes, sounds innocent by comparison; this, like several of the other pieces, was written for the amateur-cellist brother Paul, who would have tried it out during Fanny’s renowned Sunday salons. Everything is beautifully played, and in truly conversational style – for this is definitely duet music, rather than cello solos accompanied by piano, with the possible exception of Felix’s Op 109 Lied Ohne Wörte, which Moser shapes as lyrically as any singer. Beatson is playing on an 1837 Érard piano, the kind of instrument the Mendelssohns had at home. Slightly woodier and lighter-sounding than a modern grand, it is ideally balanced with Moser’s cello. As for Fanny’s music, the only problem, as ever, is that there’s so little of it. Her A flat major Capriccio and G minor Fantasia are each only a few minutes long, but the latter offers the most soulful music on the disc; at least, it does until a huge and incongruous mood-swing into cheeriness in the middle. Moser and Beatson just about bring it off, on a disc that might change your mind about the Mendelssohns.
BBC Music Magazine, July 2017 *****/*****
There was a time when a recital featuring a number of different period horns and pianos would have almost certainly been an uphill struggle for both players and listeners. So to encounter a programme featuring some of the core works in the horn repertoire played on historically appropriate instruments with such effortless musicianship and technical ease really takes some believing… Frank-Gemmill and Beatson enter the fray with fearless alacrity, making even the most well-worn of phrases sound freshly minted.
Robin Stowell, Strad Magazine, March 2015
Alasdair Beatson is the more prominent protagonist in the two Mozart sonatas but Esther Hoppe admirably complements his perceptive playing in their various exchanges, particularly in the finales. Their close rapport and flexible performance approach yield elegant, accomplished readings, which are persuasive in their vitality. Hoppe’s warm, graceful and unhurried contribution in both of the slow movements is particularly enjoyable – she caresses significant notes appropriately and realises ornamental lines non-metrically, as if spontaneously. Spontaneity is also the key to their thoughtfully timed, subtly inflected interplay in K454’s opening Largo, and their account of the subsequent Allegro combines athleticism, brilliance and humour.
Their performance of Stravinsky’s Divertimento faithfully recreates the atmosphere and programmatic aspects of his ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, ‘inspired by the Muse of Tchaikovsky’. Hoppe may not quite match the verve and intensity of, for example, Judith Ingolfsson in this repertoire (Audite) but she maintains the dance-like character of the four movements, especially in the folksy ‘Danses suisses’ and the capricious scherzo. She also recreates most effectively the glacial world of Hans Christian Andersen’s ice maiden and shades Stravinsky’s magical themes with striking colour. Beatson provides virtuoso support. The recording is first class, adding pleasing bloom to the sonorous tone of Hoppe’s 1609 Gioffredo Cappa instrument.
Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine, July 2011
…[Beatson] shapes and weights every phrase with a caring devotion, liquid sonority and gentle cantabile ideal for Mendelssohn’s sound world. There are times here where one could scarcely credit a hammer mechanism is involved… highly sensitive playing of rare insight.
Calum MacDonald, International Record Review, May 2011 – IRR OUTSTANDING
…[Beatson] certainly adds lustre to his growing reputation with this splendidly enjoyable Mendelssohn recital… a beautiful disc that has seldom been off my CD player in the last few days.
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald, 29/8/09 ****
...The lightness, clarity and intellectual coherence of Schumann’s underrated Abegg Variations are gleamingly poetic in Beatson’s hands. He is equally at home with the purity of Grieg’s Four Pieces, the relatively massive textures of Brahms 1st Sonata, very compact here, and Berg’s great expressionist sonata where the pianist achieves a transparency rare in performances of this one-off composition.
Nicholas Salwey, International Record Review, September 2009
[the Berg Sonata] receives the most commanding performance…an entirely convincing reading to rank alongside the finest.
Calum MacDonald, International Piano Magazine, July/August 2009
…There’s no question that Beatson is a gifted pianist… a deeply impressive debut disc.
Rising Star of BBC Music Magazine, July 2009
Fiona Maddocks, the Guardian 19/11/17
Formerly BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists and winners of several international competitions, this snappy, stylish group (Meta4) were collaborating for the first time with Scottish pianist Alasdair Beatson. Quartet and pianist found an intense, meticulous language to guide them through the cryptic world of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op 57 (1940).
The concert’s other work, a fine companion, was the UK premiere of Piano Quintet (2014) by Olli Mustonen (born 1967), like Shostakovich a composer-pianist. Beatson took the characterful lead in this zestful, often wild and stormy work, which twists baroque patterns with Finnish folk dance, now knotted, now manic, now sparse.
Michael Tumelty, The Herald Scotland 9/6/16
…an enthralling performance by Janiczek and Beatson… a penetrating and revealing encounter, through totally analytical and deftly-delivered performance that left this listener stunned into silence.
Christopher Lambton, Artsdesk.com, Edinburgh Queen’s Hall with Scottish Ensemble, 29/10/14
Beatson returned to the stage for the reassuringly straightforward piano concerto no12 in A, K414 by Mozart. Beatson is a consummate ensemble musician, undemonstrative, gentle, and mercifully free of the histrionics that infect many solo pianists. With subtle use of the soft pedal to achieve a lovely covered sound from the Queen’s Hall Steinway, this was a performance to relish for its grace and musicianship.
Kate Molleson Highlights of Scotland’s Classical Music during 2012, The Herald Scotland 28/12/12
In June Alasdair Beatson’s Mozart with the wind principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was bold and boisterous at the Cottier Chamber Music Project; in November his Schubert – the Wanderer Fantasy at Glasgow’s Piano series – was intimate and thrilling.
on William Lyne 80th Birthday concert, Wigmore Hall, 28/11/12:
Opening each half with Fauré, pianist Alasdair Beatson offered searching, lyrical playing that will have won him many friends here besides Lyne. (Erica Jeal, Guardian, 30/11/12)
These sort of spangly tributes can become a bit fragmentary and superficial. No danger of that here. Beatson, tipped by Lyne for big things, anchored each half of the concert with two works by Fauré, of which the dreamy Nocturne No 6 was particularly fine. (Neil Fisher, The Times, 30/11/12)
Exquisite solo Fauré by Alasdair Beatson (Barry Millington, London Evening Standard, 29/11/12)
www.bachtrack.com, Wigmore Hall, 8/5/12
There’s a sort of modesty in his approach that is extremely appealing: there’s not a hint of egotism or self aggrandisement, which manifests in exceptionally well prepared performances which always seek to serve the music as aptly and perfectly as possible, without ever adding anything extraneous or resorting to “playing to the gallery”. So huge technical demands are surmounted just as dutifully as a singing cantabile line or well measured cadence…. The Herculean feats of pianism required by this [Schubert Wanderer Fantasy] score were played with careful intensity initially, with Beatson utilising an extroardinarily wide ranging timbral pallete to delineate its complicated form. A stroke of genius was to hold back the full sonority of the piano until the massive fugue that opens the finale, the thunderous breadth of its contours pinning every audience member to their seat, until the final climax, which was so gargantuan as to be astonishing. [Read the entire review here]
Peter Reed, www.classicalsource.com, Wigmore Hall, 8/5/12
…showed off the control and clarity of his playing… considerable virtuosity… honoured by the subtlety and power of Beatson’s disarmingly direct playing. [Read the entire review here]
Sarah Urwin Jones, The Times, 25/10/11
The most fascinating came last. The 14-year-old Mendelssohn’s impressive Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D Minor wears its musical influences very much on its sleeve. Exuberantly virtuosic, there’s something curious in its mix of bravura showmanship for the two soloists and the somewhat intermittent scoring for the strings.
Certainly the expressive Alasdair Beatson had its measure, repeatedly called on to scamper up and down the keyboard, sometimes dominating, sometimes accompanying Morton’s refined, gossamer violin.
Carol Main, The Scotsman, 28/10/11 ****
Pianist Alasdair Beatson was mesmerising, his quiet effervescence well matched with Morton’s own understated style.
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald, 27/10/11 *****
…violinist Jonathan Morton and his Scottish Ensemble in superb form, along with outstanding pianist Alasdair Beatson… the magnificent, totally persuasive account of Mendelssohn’s youthful Double Concerto, with Morton and Beatson perfect foils in a gloriously discursive performance
Peter Reed, Classical Source, 22/2/11
…a display of delirious, explosive playing…
…Beatson’s performance was magisterial, charting the gradual shift into ever-more subtle refinement with unerring perception – in short, a revelation.
[Read the entire review here.]
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald, 26/1/10 *****
…a major Scottish musical figure… extraordinary set of performances… pristine pianism… musicianship of the highest order.
Musical Opinion, March – April 2009
…hugely enjoyable performance… outstanding calibre.
Kenneth Carter, Classical Source, 9/10/08
Beatson is a fine pianist. He has nonchalant technique, winning sensitivity and commanding authority. He ripples, he ruminates and he sparkles. He had a nifty way with a jazz beat and a deliciously irreverent send-up of the romantic cliché. He is also wilful. This attribute renders his performance vital and distinctive.
Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman, 6/10/08
The big surprise of the evening was Beatson, a relatively new kid on the block, but a startling musician who brought his own idiosyncratic zest to Shostakovich’s Concerto No 1 for piano, trumpet and strings. He sprang into action with positively overt eccentricity, striking up a potent double act with Balsom – devilish protagonist meets elegant diva.
Paul Driver, Sunday Times, 15/1/06
Artistry incarnate – that was Beatson
Annette Morreau, The Independent, 12/1/06
Beatson’s performance (without score) of Dutilleux‘s 1948 Piano Sonata was outstanding. Here is a young artist of exceptional talent and confidence, making musical sense of all he played.
Stephen Pettitt, Evening Standard, 10/1/06
…masterly readings… beautifully, poignantly played
…like a demented Quasimodo…