Carl Czerny was a piano student of Beethoven, and played his teacher’s sonatas as they appeared. As a composer he was responsible for many pieces designed to address specific aspects of piano technique. In time, Czerny taught Liszt and possibly influenced his writing; hence the CD title, Master & Pupil.
Melvyn Tan first came to prominence as a proponent of the fortepiano, recording the Beethoven concertos on that instrument in the early 1990s with period-style conductor Roger Norrington. Here Tan plays a modern Steinway, but his classical sensibility remains in terms of polish over profundity. Having said that, he employs appropriately Romantic rubato in both the Beethoven Sonata No 30 and Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and his overview of those two masterpieces contains much lovely playing, while always remaining in scale. In the Liszt we are probably used to more sheer heft, but Tan’s subtle detail proves engrossing.
Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles (his final piano composition) benefit from the simplicity of Tan’s approach; he does not push them out of shape by being over-emotive. To my mind, the pianist is most impressive in the Czerny works: the Variations on a Theme by Rode, and the Funeral March for Beethoven. Showing off is what brings this music to life. In the Variations, Tan shows a real sense of enjoyment in the elaborate, glittering surface of Czerny’s challenging but comparatively superficial writing.