Beethoven: Piano Sonatas: in E, Op. 109; in A flat, Op. 110; in C minor, Op. 111

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Sonatas: in E, Op. 109; in A flat, Op. 110; in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Alexei Lubimov (piano)

Artur Schnabel once declared that he was only interested in playing music that was ‘better than it can be performed’. The last three Beethoven sonatas fall firmly into that category, and certainly no single interpreter can hope to uncover all their hidden depths. For Alexei Lubimov, their unconventional formal dimensions place them, as he says, in a category of their own among Beethoven’s piano works, and they need to be played in a manner that reveals their underlying metaphysical quality. You may disagree with details of his performances, but there’s no mistaking their intelligence, or the mastery of his pianism.
Lubimov uses a restored piano of the late 1820s by the little-known Viennese manufacturer Alois Graff. Its sound is rich and warm, and Lubimov makes full use of its una corda, or soft pedal, effect. He plays the variation theme of Op. 109 that way, and when he releases the pedal for the sublimated waltz of the first variation the music soars with new resplendence.
The gradual reawakening of the second fugal section out of the preceding tragic ‘arioso’ in Op. 110 is superbly handled, too, and Lubimov is equally  mysterious in the central fugato of Op. 111’s opening movement. No doubt, he could have made more out of the repeated crescendos in the coda of the same sonata’s variation finale, but the ultimate crescendo leading to the trill with which the music dissolves towards its close is all the more effective. These rewarding and thought-provoking performances have been very well recorded by Zig-Zag Territoires. Misha Donat