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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 30 in E, Op. 109 (1820) [19:52], No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110 (1821-2) [20:46], No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822) [27:56]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
rec. Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 12-20 May 2005.
PHILIPS 475 6935 [66:50]

A little while ago Uchida played these sonatas at London's Festival Hall, a recital I referred to as presenting 'work in progress' (see review). I also suggested that the final recorded performances, presumably several years hence, should reveal much deeper interpretations.
 
The fact is that Uchida entered the studio too early. Her deep study of the scores is in evidence from her own booklet notes, an illustrated analysis that touches on matters  motivic as well as harmonic. It is clear she is aware of the gravity of her undertaking and she is blessed by a truly professional recording of great fidelity.
 
So to the recording. The great Op. 109's first movement plays to all of Uchida's many strengths. There is an easy flow, great timbral variety. The finale's Variations provide the acid test, though Uchida begins calmly this is not a transcendental calm; further, as the movement progressed, I found myself longing for the longer-range thought. Despite many positives – fine finger strength, astonishing staccato – the final return of the Theme fails to make its effect, as if the preceding struggle failed to shed any new light on its contents.
 
The next Sonata is, in fairness, much better. Despite some left-hand pedestrianism in the first movement (plonky chords), there is nevertheless an overarching peace here. The only disappointing part of this reading is the rather careful second movement – the Adagio ma non troppo is appropriately innig in nature and the final Fugue almost communes with late Beethoven's spirit, rising to an impressive climax.
 
Finally, Op. 111. As before, the individual characters of various passages are all present and correct. The opening is nicely declamatory, the later octave semiquavers exciting. Yet where is an omniscience à la Schnabel (see review)? Impressive that the second movement emerges organically out of the first, but as in the case of Op. 109 Uchida does not quite take us on an outing to the Elysian fields. While one might sit agape at her perfect trills - stunning - it is telling that Beethoven's huge left-right hand registral separations do not make their full effect.
 
Despite many moments of beauty, I still question Uchida's affinity with late-Beethoven.
 
Colin Clarke
 

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