WORKS: Piano Sonata in D, Op. 10/3; Piano Sonata in E, Op. 14/1; Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 110
PERFORMER: Awadagin Pratt (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55290 2 DDD
Awadagin Pratt is a young American pianist still in his twenties. Here he makes a strong impression in the two early sonatas, marking off musical ideas and sections very decisively. He sounds as if he has worked out his interpretations in every detail, rather than playing spontaneously. Although Beethoven’s Op. 109 is the simplest of his late sonatas, it needs the most mature pianist, one who can fill out its unfussy forms with the generous, unselfconscious feeling that usually comes only with long experience. Pratt is much more arresting in Op. 110, which gives him the chance to inflect more. He not only has a huge dynamic range but he has an original vision of the music, and the way he probes its innermost recesses is exciting and moving. The slow sections prefacing the two fugues are inspired and, towards the end, a mood of elation takes off as never before.
Louis Lortie is sufficiently advanced in a distinguished career not to feel the need to prove himself. He is a player in the very highest class – versatile, wise and very straight. He meets the challenges of Beethoven’s two most difficult sonatas head on, so that you may wonder whatever sent some of the old ‘greats’, like Schnabel, into such a fluster. If the answer is Beethoven’s metronome markings, then Lortie is in line with nearly every other pianist in playing the first two movements of the Hammerklavier a lot slower. The recording is typical of Chandos’s spacious approach, which makes you feel as though you are sitting in the middle of an empty Snape Maltings.
Paul Armstrong’s menu of popular favourites is perhaps aimed at less well-informed consumers than readers of this magazine, but who needs these stodgy, literal-minded accounts? A few professional tricks, often for technical convenience, do not disguise the fact that Armstrong shows no imaginative spark at all.
Dénes Várjon is only very slightly better. The recorded piano sound is comparatively stringy, not like a Steinway. I have no objections to that, but although you hear Várjon varying his finger velocity, you don’t hear any change of colour or expressive effect, and he rattles through his programme like a student in good physical form but spiritually starved. Adrian Jack