van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 28 in A, Op. 101 (1816) [22:23]; No. 29
in B flat, Op. 106, 'Hammerklavier' (1817-1818) [46:18]
rec. La Salle de Musique, Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 28 April-2
May 2007. DDD PHILIPS 4758662 [68:51]
on Uchida's Hammerklavier in June
2005, I found it to be very much a work-in-progress. I had
come to a similar conclusion about her performances of the last
three sonatas in October 2003.
One would have hoped that setting her interpretations down on
disc would have taken her a step forward, but there were still
reservations to be made about her Philips
CD of these final works.
two Sonatas here are presented in numerical order, so the Hammerklavier crowns
the listening experience. It is Op. 101 that suits Uchida's
temperament better though. The leisurely opening belies, perhaps,
the bilingual tempo indication - 'Etwas lebhaft und mit der
innigsten Empfindung/Allegretto, ma non troppo' - emphasising
the allegretto part the more. Uchida could justifiably be accused
of loving some passages too much, such is her tendency to linger.
Yet the second movement positively explodes onto the scene,
as if it has a point to make. A pity the tension drops. One
is left admiring Uchida's way with the more whispered moments
whilst egging her on to more extroversion in the fortes. Indeed,
it is in the great opening of the third movement that Uchida
is at her finest, bringing to mind the world of the slow movements
of the late string quartets. Later, one can sit agape at her
finger definition, but she still sits some way away from a real
communion with late Beethovenian thought.
commented on the slow anacrusis that opened Uchida's live Hammerklavier;
compare to Pollini's lightning gesture! The same criticism applies
here – the dynamism inherent in the work is muted from the off.
In the movement that follows there are myriad details that bewitch
the ear. Balancing this, though, is a certain loss of momentum,
particularly around the six- to seven-minute mark, where things
become distinctly leaden. The rhythmic impetus that so marks
the Pollini DG account is missing here, and the reading suffers
as a result.
technique is exemplary in the Scherzo, however, where she fearlessly
addresses all of Beethoven's challenges. True, there is not
the patrician ease of Gilels (DG), but this is nevertheless
admirable playing. Clearly Uchida feels most at home in the
huge slow movement, which she lets unfold at its own pace. 'Unfold'
seems the mot juste here – it is the aural equivalent
of watching a slow-motion blossoming of a flower. From this
expansive terrain, the finale slowly emerges. Uchida's transition
to this famous fugue is masterly; the highlight of her reading,
in fact. As the various gestures struggle to find a fitting
continuation, Uchida really relishes the sense of exploration.
When the fugue itself arrives, one cannot but admire Uchida's
finger strength. Again, though, there is a 'but'. Some passages
emerge as near-inchoate as forward direction once again suffers.
The granitic greatness of late Beethoven is only approximated,
meaning that the balm that appears around 8'20 has a diminished
is interesting that Naxos, when reissuing the Schnabel HMV cycle
of Beethoven Sonatas, coupled these two sonatas but found space
for Op. 90 as well. Of course Schnabel in 1935 is less accurate
than Uchida in 2007, to put it mildly, but his formidable intellect
and his remarkable ear conspired towards an edge-of-the-seat
but nevertheless lasting impression.
recording is a fine one. There is plenty of space around the
piano, and yet it retains its intimacy. The piano itself is
toned in exemplary fashion. Misha Donat's booklet notes are
both articulate and detailed.
mixed reception, then. Uchida is never less than fascinating,
but alas these readings cannot sit in the pantheon of the greats.
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