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

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109; Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 110; Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111
PERFORMER: Mitsko Uchida (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6935
This is an exasperating disc, in that one third of it is wonderful, in the highest rank of inspired performances of one of the supreme masterpieces of the piano repertoire, while the other two thirds are mediocre in a way I find it hard to credit from an artist of Mitsuko Uchida’s stature. When one dislikes something she does, one expects to be in violent disagreement with it, for its fussiness, point-making, mannerism and suffocating with too much affection. But here, her performances of the sonatas Opp. 109 and 110 are just routine, the last thing I’d ever have imagined accusing Uchida of. If I had listened to them ‘blind’ I would have assumed that they were by a pianist who had mastered the technique required for these extremely demanding works, but had yet to probe beneath their surface, and would have thought that he or she should listen to, but not copy, Arrau, Richter, Annie Fisher, Schnabel, and so on. I’m sure that Uchida knows those and many other accounts intimately, but here she sounds determined to produce versions which show that she is uninfluenced by any other great pianist only in their anonymity.

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Then comes Op. 111, and a revelation from the fierce opening to the sublimely peaceful last pages. This performance is passionate, extreme, serene, playful and reaching towards the transcendental, yet a tight unity. For it alone, and only for it, this disc is indispensable for the lover of this culmination of Beethoven’s piano writing. As for an alternative for the other two works, these last three sonatas are so great that no pianist will do them complete justice, but Stephen Kovacevich, in his EMI recording, probably comes as close as we shall ever hear. Michael Tanner