There is no surer way of appreciating the full extent of Beethoven’s genius than hearing, acquiring or downloading Maurizio Pollini’s album

Maurizio Pollini                                         Beethoven: The Last Three Sonatas 

Deutsche Grammophon, out now 

Rating:

Hats off to Deutsche Grammophon. Not only is it the producer of the finest complete Beethoven set in this, his 250th anniversary year, drawing on the full range of outstanding recordings from its back catalogue, but it is also bringing out a series of new stuff.

First it was the Andris Nelsons/Vienna Philharmonic complete symphonies set; first-class performances in demonstration-quality sound. Now it’s this magisterial recital by Maurizio Pollini, captured, seemingly live, in Munich last June.

Daniel Barenboim rattled through his first Beethoven sonata survey in 36 months. Pollini took 39 years to complete his, beginning with these last three sonatas in 1975-77. 

There’s a greater urgency about Maurizio Pollini’s playing, especially in the finale of the last sonata, which is two minutes quicker than his previous effort

There’s a greater urgency about Maurizio Pollini’s playing, especially in the finale of the last sonata, which is two minutes quicker than his previous effort

Now he returns to them, the ultimate challenge for great pianists, with Sonata No 30 recorded in the same Munich venue as its predecessor.

These new recordings display perhaps a deeper appreciation of the music’s significance, and an enhanced determination to communicate it to his audience. There’s a greater urgency about Pollini’s playing, especially in the finale of the last sonata, which is two minutes quicker than his previous effort – a lot over a span of only 17 minutes. 

I found myself tapping my feet at the exceptional drive and propulsion Pollini conjures up, particularly when his playing is enhanced by the outstanding sound DG has given him.

I think Beethoven shows him at his best, because Beethoven’s own rigour so clearly matches and stimulates this deeply thoughtful pianist’s own

I think Beethoven shows him at his best, because Beethoven’s own rigour so clearly matches and stimulates this deeply thoughtful pianist’s own

Pollini’s objectivity and intellectual rigour have sometimes led to criticism that his playing is too cold and clinical. Not here. The more introverted passages, for instance, exhibit an emotional commitment, allied to a technical address that belies his age, and a vigour seemingly unaffected by his parallel career as a lifelong smoker. 

He’s in his late 70s now, but age has not withered him, nor the years decayed.

Pollini was known early on as a Chopin pianist, following his victory as an 18-year-old in the prestigious Warsaw Chopin Competition and his celebrated recording of the First Concerto in 1960. 

But I think Beethoven shows him at his best, because Beethoven’s own rigour so clearly matches and stimulates this deeply thoughtful pianist’s own.

Do hear, acquire or download this. There is no surer way of appreciating the full extent of Beethoven’s genius than here. 

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