Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Op. 13 (Pathétique), Op. 27/2 (Moonlight), Op. 31/2 (Tempest), & Op. 57 (Appassionata)

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Op. 13 (Pathétique), Op. 27/2 (Moonlight), Op. 31/2 (Tempest), & Op. 57 (Appassionata)
PERFORMER: Artur Pizarro (piano)
It wasn’t until after hearing Artur Pizarro’s Pathétique that I noticed he was using the analyst Heinrich Schenker’s editions. It makes perfect sense. Pizarro’s attention to minute detail balanced by a sense of how those details point to the existence of a kind of hidden melody, running behind the notes yet somehow sounding through them, is all very much in accord with Schenker’s views. He has an exceptional sense of musical line: not just in the elegantly vocal long melody that opens the Pathétique’s famous slow movement, but also running through the furious torrents of notes in the finale of the Moonlight. It’s a very Romantic view, but it’s delivered with conviction, intelligence and refined pianism that demands respect at the very least. And in moments like the ‘voice from the tomb’ recitatives in the first movement of the Tempest Sonata, the poised intensity can be pretty compelling. Alfred Brendel’s two-for-the-price-of-one selection of seven named sonatas on Philips makes an interesting comparison. Brendel is never as seductively beautiful as Pizarro (who plays an especially lovely sounding Blüthner piano), but his feeling for details and their long-term connections is still more acute, and the beauty is never smoothly generalised, as Pizarro occasionally allows himself to be. And in Brendel’s Appassionata the intensity really bites. Still, this is a remarkable effort from a pianist who deserves more attention. Stephen Johnson