> Beethoven Sonatas Pires DG 4534572 [CC]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas – No. 13 in E flat, Op. 27 No. 1; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, ‘Moonlight’; No. 30 in E, Op. 109.

Maria João Pires (piano).
Recorded at Granja de Belgais, Portugal in June 2000 and May 2001 [DDD]
DG 453 457-2 [51.16]


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There is little doubt that the presentation of this disc is amongst some of the most stylish that I have encountered. In amongst a selection of quotes about Beethoven from Rainer Maria Rilke, Hermann Hesse and Wilhelm Furtwängler nestle a selection of atmospheric shots of Belgais, home of Maria João Pires’ centre for the arts. To learn more about this centre, visit www.belgais.net.

Belgais is obviously a place of great tranquillity. The quotations mentioned above are presumably to evoke this atmosphere: one does wonder, however, if so many of them are necessary when Pires herself seems to communicate so much about the spirit of Beethoven through the medium of music alone. She obviously chose these sonatas carefully as they show her great strengths of touching lyricism, the ability to convey the deepest of emotions and beauty of sound coupled with superbly clear articulation.

The two sonatas of Op. 27 form an ideal coupling. The E flat, No. 1, is the lesser known of the two, an unfair situation due to universal acquaintance with the ‘Moonlight’’s first movement. Not too far removed from Brendel in outlook in the first sonata, (try Philips 438 863-2 for the latter pianist’s recent thoughts), Pires nevertheless has her own unique slant. If the lyrical outpouring of the Adagio con espressione is not enough, listen to the irrepressible vitality of her second movement (Allegro molto e vivace) or the inevitable unfolding of the last (quite rightly, her musicality almost makes one overlook the miracles of clarity and dexterity which mark her fingerwork).

A million and one pianists have attempted the ‘Moonlight’ before her: an infinite number will follow. But it is here in this piece in which Pires seems to feel almost preternaturally at home: here, in the first movement, is peace and utter serenity. This movement has surely been attempted by even the most amateur of pianists and yet has defeated some of the greatest: Pires is mesmeric and has the ultimate talent of making one hear the music afresh. The last movement, predictably, eschews the virtuoso sparks of a Pollini (his live performances have one on the end of one’s seat). It is explosive in its way, certainly, and there is real dynamism, but there is also space for the more lyrical moments to breathe.

The first movement of the ‘Moonlight’ can, in the right hands, take the listener to higher planes. Much of Op. 109 springs from a similar oasis of peace (transcendentally so in the case of the final movement), but in the unique and unmistakable manner of Beethoven’s third and final period. Pires’ interpretation encompasses the requisite grandeur and lyricism. The opening of the second movement is possibly the only place where she deliberately hardens her tone, emphasising the emphatic gesture, but it makes perfect musical sense in the overall scheme. It is the mountain of the final movement which forms the recital’s apt climax. Matters of technique are once more subsidiary as one concentrates on the transcendental, heavenly qualities of the music. Pires realises the structure perfectly, with exquisite shadings leading through to the robust counterpoint characteristic of late Beethoven and on to the trill-laden final pages and the restatement of the theme, now heard in a very different, transfigured light. This is a reading to hold on equal footing to Pollini’s (the late sonatas, Op. 101 onwards, are available on a DG Originals two-disc set, 449 740-2).

The recording is, in general, superb: only in Op. 27 No. 1 do the waters of the bass occasionally muddy. This is a truly awe-inspiring offering from Pires which acts as a reminder of what a truly unique and inspiring musician she is.

Colin Clarke


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