WORKS: Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 27/1 (Quasi una fantasia); Pano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2 (Moonlight); Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 453 457-2
This is Pires’s first Beethoven recording for many years, and it strikes me as something of a qualified success. Understandably, the CD’s artwork concentrates on the Moonlight Sonata, and as luck
would have it this is also the finest performance here, with an admirable sense of delicacy and rapt intensity in the famous opening movement, and a finale which has just the right combination of surging drama and lyrical expansiveness. A little less impressive, however, is the other Sonata ‘Quasi una fantasia’, Op. 27/1. Certainly, Pires’s characteristic warmth and spontaneity stand her in good stead again, but the long pauses she allows herself between the violently contrasted episodes in the opening pages lessen the shock-value of the music’s sudden switches of mood, and her dynamics in the scherzo are a little wayward. In the late Op. 109 Sonata both the opening movement and the valedictory variation finale are played with great tenderness and affection, though not without a tendency to iron out a few of the characteristic crescendos that lend the first movement such an important part of its character.
For all its fine qualities, then, it is difficult to feel that this new disc as a whole reaches quite the exalted level of some of the beautiful recordings of Mozart, Schubert and Chopin which Pires has given us in the past. Certainly, her Moonlight would be hard to beat; but for Op. 109 Myra Hess’s 1953 performance, usefully reissued in Philips’s ‘Great Pianists’ series, remains an unforgettably moving experience. Misha Donat