Composers: Beethoven
Compositions: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 109, 110 and 111
Performers: Maurizio Pollini p
Catalogue Number: DG 4838250

Maurizio Pollini’s accounts of the glorious triptych of Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas are rightly legendary: a miraculous melding of power, intellectuality and sheer beauty, to name but three elements, without the sometimes cold, crystalline perfection of Michelangeli. In his latest recording of the three, the E Flat Sonata (Opus 109) is played to emphasise its rhapsodic spirit and he makes the brief second movement resemble a sort of Tarantella (although sounding nothing like Rossini). What fascinated me especially was his quizzical approach to the final theme and variations movement, where the repeated pedal accompaniment B note is continually divided into shorter notes, beginning like spray of droplets coalescing into a stream and finishing as a cataract.

In the A Flat, Op. 110, Pollini sizzles in the second scherzo-like movement, while in the following arioso dolente, he emphasises emotional intensity rather than grief.

My only disappointment came with the final work, the C Minor, Op. 111. This reading is significantly faster than either his 1975 recording or a 1995 performance at the Salzburg Festival I stumbled across on YouYube. And therein, I think, lies the problem. Pollini seems to rush his fences in the first movement where, previously, he conveyed the impression that Beethoven had tamed his demons, here they are rampant. In the second movement, in the final pages, the trills are less ecstatic, transcendent and sublime whereas before, Pollini’s ineffable playing led the listener gently under a star-flecked sky into another more benign universe.

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