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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 21 in C, Op. 53, Waldstein (1804) [22:26]; No. 26 in E flat, Op. 81a, Les Adieux (1809/10) [14:59]; No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110 (1821/22) [18:33]; No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27/2, Moonlight (1801) [13:04]
Nelson Freire (piano)
rec. Salle de Musique, Chaux-le-Fonds, 21-28 April 2006. DDD
DECCA 4758155 [69:25]


Experience Classicsonline

The Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire is one of the best-kept secrets of recent years. In a world where pianists come and go on the breeze, players of the calibre of Freire are as rare as hens’ teeth. His tone is a thing of purest beauty and it s expertly captured here by the Decca team of Christopher Pope and Dominic Fyfe. More, his playing has a gravitas – a knowingness – that informs every single note. His coupling of the Brahms Concertos with Chailly, Decca 475 7637, reveals this also.

Freire's strength stems from an inner core of steel, yet his fingers are capable of myriad variations of touch - not one, incidentally, inappropriate for Beethoven. Accents bite without stabbing and over it all lies Freire's intense awareness of large-scale harmonic movement. Nowhere is this better revealed than in the first sonata we hear, the Waldstein. Even the slow movement's meanderings never sound aimless, just místy before the clarity of the wafting beauty of the opening of the finale. Freire injects more drama than most into this finale, and ensures the coda is not just a headlong rush. Definition is always paramount, stemming from enviable finger-strength.

Freire brings huge pathos to the vitally important Adagio of the first movement of Les Adieux, particularly the valedictory descending three-note, horn-call like, figure. Freire makes light of the Allegro's technical difficulties; the only player I have hard to match him here is Arrau, live at the Royal Festival Hall in around 1985. The oscillating figure featured mainly in the inner voices of the first movement buzzes with life under Freire's intelligent fingers, while individual, unaccompanied strands make maximum impact. The desolation of the central Andante espressivo L'Absence' prefigures the loneliness of late Schubert slow movements, its lines singing with a true cantabile. The contrast with the finale is stark. This last movement has no problems including light-hearted play, juxtaposing that with various outbursts.

The interplay of transcendental calm and slow-burning intensity projected by Freire seems to penetrate straight to the heart of the first movement of Op. 110. The tension latent explodes onto the scene in the brief (two-minute) Allegro molto. There is no sense of technical strain whatsoever here -  how many pianists can claim that? The acres of space Freire finds in the Adagio ma non troppo makes one hanker for more late Beethoven from this pianist. The final fugue creeps in, imbued with a Zen-like concentration. This is fully in the same league as Pollini and Schnabel.

This Sonata Op. 27/2 must be up there in the top ten of the World's most recorded music, so it needs someone special to make it sound freshly-minted. Freire's tempo for the Adagio sostenuto is middle-of-the-road, but his legato and subtle phrase shadings make for a mesmeric experience. The finale, if not quite as exciting as Pollini has made it in live performance, is nevertheless made of virtuoso stuff and makes for an apt conclusion to a must-have disc.

Colin Clarke


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