Perhaps it is the sheer dignity of Serkin’s Beethoven that shines
through most strongly here. At times, there is an objectivity
that recalls Gilels rather than the more glacial but no less impressive
Pollini – both on DG. Chris de Souza’s notes refer to Serkin’s
technical failings, and certainly around 7:20 in the first movement
things begin to get uncomfortable – the impression is that Serkin
is feeling around for both notes and direction. The sense of structure
is not as firm as Pollini, either.
sits with the best of them, however. Capricious to the hilt,
Beethoven’s humour is projected faithfully and with elan, in
full contrast to the towering stillness of the great Adagio
sostenuto. The transition to the finale is captivating from
first to last – Serkin makes one aware of the truly exploratory
nature of the writing, emphasised by his sparing use of the
pedal. The fugue is laid bare with a surgeon’s precision in
terms of voice-leading; also, Serkin’s pacing is masterly, with
the effect that the climax approaches the overwhelming. The
enthusiastic applause is fully justified.
The serene opening
to Op. 110 is slightly held back, emotionally. Again, there
is a sense of inevitable unfolding of Beethoven’s argument.
The second movement (“Allegro molto”) comes as a shock, its
roughness unhidden. Serkin surely is attempting to include the
whole World in this sonata - a feat normally attempted with
Op. 106 - and succeeding. This impression is continued by the
fugue of the finale.
The recorded sound
is focused throughout, enabling Serkin’s carefully considered
detailing to shine through.
In 2005, Music
& Arts issued an invaluable Beethoven/Serkin twofer that
deserves a place in every pianophile’s library. It shares space
and holds its head high with not only the pianists mentioned
above, but also with Schnabel and Solomon. These BBC Legends
accounts flesh out the repertoire presented there, and act as
further reminder of Serkin’s stature.