Murray Perahia returns to Beethoven in style

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: ‘Hammerklavier’ and ‘Moonlight’ Sonatas
PERFORMER: Murray Perahia (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4798353

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Murray Perahia is currently editing a new Urtext edition of Beethoven’s sonatas, and it looks as if this work has influenced his playing. When I heard his Hammerklavier at the Barbican two years ago, it seemed to me that he wanted to suggest how this craggy masterpiece might have sounded on an instrument of the period, whose dynamic range would have been much narrower than that of a modern Steinway. His approach seemed too cerebral; the contrasts, which should have seemed so gigantic as to be barely containable on one single instrument, felt tamed and domesticated.

Listening to this new recording, and seeing how he talks about the work in the liner note, I now see what he is after. This sonata, he says, was Beethoven’s way of liberating himself from the depression in which he had been plunged in 1817, and that is how his performance feels, with the first, second and final movements rushing exultantly along. I have never heard the opening Allegro sound so pretty, or its passagework so sweet. Perahia doesn’t follow Beethoven’s impossible metronome marking: he takes it at a relatively gentle pace which allows him to bring out the movement’s many moments of beauty. The pulse of the Scherzo is rigorously even, but it has explosive energy; the sheer precision of the articulation in the finale is a pleasure, as he takes us boldly through its labyrinth of furiously contending ideas. Meanwhile, graced by his magic touch, the Adagio becomes an exquisitely serene meditation.

Perahia’s account of the Moonlight Sonata is no less exemplary. He brings out the grave poetry of the Adagio, presents a relaxed and conversational Allegretto, and the finale has charm, rather than the factitious excitement with which many pianists imbue it.

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Michael Church