WORKS: Piano Sonata in F, Op. 54; Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata); Piano Sonata in F sharp, Op. 78; Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90; Piano Sonatas, Opp. 57 & 78
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 474 451-2
What kind of strange rationale was behind this release? The four performances listed on the cover aren’t without their points of interest. But the so-called ‘Bonus CD’ – two concert performances from the Vienna Musikverein recorded last year – could almost have been added to show up what those studio recordings lack: intensity, sense of musical form as drama, expressive openness. In the live performance, the slow movement of the Appassionata is a continuous, living process; in the studio it just sounds drily eccentric. Pollini may not have reached the heights of Emil Gilels, but at least in the Vienna performance it sounds as though he’s trying. After that the studio version sounds weirdly disengaged. The live Op. 78 is also a lot more involving – though there you have to put up with thudding pedal noises. For intelligence, sensuous beauty and a much better recording go to Stephen Kovacevich on EMI.
As implied above, the musical pickings on the main disc are pretty lean. There are some nice moments. Listening to the lead-back to the main theme in the first movement of Op. 90 is rather like watching a tiny ice sculpture melting. But the finale of that same Sonata is disappointingly matter-of-fact, however well shaped. Similarly, Op. 54 starts well, but the long forte passage in triplets that follows is unrelentingly heavy – rather the quirky brilliance of a Richter any time! Richter’s Op. 54 is only available in a full-price two CD set (with the Appassionata, the ‘Easy’ G minor and the last three sonatas) – not perfect performances, but alive and penetrating throughout. Stephen Johnson