BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat Major, Op. 26 “Funeral March”; Piano Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 14, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 15 in D Major, Op. 28 “Pastoral” – Murray Perahia, piano – Sony Classical

by | Feb 11, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 12 in A-flat Major, Op. 26 “Funeral March”; Piano Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14, No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 10 in G Major, Op. 14, No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 15 in D Major, Op. 28 “Pastoral” – Murray Perahia, piano – Sony Classical 88697326462, 70:41 ****:

Murray Perahia continues his survey of the Beethoven sonatas with a volume of four, composed 1798-1831, recorded 16-18 June 2008 from the Rundfunkzentrum, Berlin, Germany. Ever studious, thoughtful, and intelligently passionate, Perahia brings his especial sonority to bear on these keyboard experiments, each of which contributes to the dynamically searching temperament we call Beethoven.

The Op. 26 has had several fine exponents of its unique structure and ethos, notably Sviatoslav Richter and Wilhelm Kempff. Its opening theme and variations offer Perahia applications of touch, texture, and dynamics that challenge his sense of continuity. Its quiet contrasts already anticipate the sudden shifts, rolls, and interjections of the later Marcia funebre third movement. The whimsical scherzo jabs dramatically and dances skittishly, the bass runs looking ahead to Mendelssohn and Liszt. Poised restraint marks Perahia’s funeral march, the non-legato spiked chromatics more than once suggestive of the composer’s Op. 13 “Pathetique.” Pearls in constant motion define the final Allegro, the evaporating tissue easily referenced to Schubert and Schumann, with Perahia’s hard-edged landings of particular merit.

The E Major Sonata has been an idiosyncratic favorite of mine since I heard it with Gina Bachauer.  Despite a blithe surface, a snaky chromaticism moves beneath the opening Allegro’s balanced figures shared among mercurially shifting registers that invoke a false recap in deftly shaded colors. The cascades that define the true recapitulation enjoy a mock-heroic playfulness, a moment of counterpoint, then the scherzando affect sings its way to smirking, irreverent, conclusion. Perahia takes the slightly haunted Allegretto–Trio a mite faster than some; but the E Minor never quite fits into a character we can call a menuet or a siciliano. The last movement purports to be a Rondo, but it too undergoes some metric shocks and a semi-symphonic series of rolling arpeggios that keep Perahia’s hands busy without lapsing into rococo clichés.

The G Major has Beethoven bantering with Rossini for bel canto invention that covers impish intent, like the suspension of the downbeat. The middle voicing suggests a serenade, which Beethoven had already composed as his Op. 8. The gentle, upward progressions often point to Galuppi or highly melismatic Haydn, while the dramatic development section might be an homage to Clementi. Perahia plays the Andante the way Carlos Kleiber toys with the menuet from Schubert’s Third Symphony, as a series of variants in sparkling, galant wit. The Scherzo that concludes this little volcano in a teacup hints at what Perahia might make of Scarlatti, except that Beethoven’s extensions and Homeric humor already point a cosmic dance well beyond Scarlatti’s range.

From its opening, drone bass to it lofty vistas of emotion–akin to Friedrich’s view of that lonely summit to which The Wanderer has ascended–Perahia applies a largesse upon the D Major, Op. 28 that communicates the grand style – where the silences, more than the sounds, bespeak a world of vision. Perahia seems to me to have reached the kind of lofty repose we attribute to the likes of Backhaus and Solomon, masters of the Beethoven idiom. The Andante enjoys that urge of briskness that neither plods nor trods with a heavy foot, almost a study in degrees of leggiero touches. When the da capo extends the martial tune even more into a cantilena, the effect quite beguiles. The Scherzo asks Perahia for a broader sprezzatura, his hands moving aptly between registers and illumined staccati. The Allegro vivace of the Trio section blurs by. Another drone bass begins the Rondo, an evocation of Breughel that only the Sixth Symphony can complete, although the symphonic tissue already resonates in the keyboard. That Perhahia often makes Beethoven sound like Chopin can only be denied by the idosyncrasy of the German master’s excursions into harmony. For sheer polish and digital elan, you cannot improve upon Perahia’s inscription here.

–Gary Lemco


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