Steven Masi's new cycle of the Beethoven sonatas
starts with a bold choice of four great works that are very different
from one another. The results are divided between successful and less
so. Best is the famous Pathétique
, strong of spine and
lyrical too, with some of Masi's idiosyncrasies - take the rhythms of
the introduction, or the clear accompaniment in the adagio's central
passages - perking up my ears. I'm pretty jaded about this piece, have
heard it too many times, but Masi brought back my interest and curiosity
and gave me greater pleasure than any performance has in years.
On the other hand, the Pastoral
sonata begins so slowly that
Masi manages to be both eccentric and pedantic at the same time. Depending
on the passage, the tempo can be breathtaking or dull, but it's possible
to achieve glowing lyricism at far faster speeds, like Andrea Lucchesini
(24:22), Ivan Moravec (23:17), or François-Frédéric
Guy (24:02). The first movement of the tiny gem No. 25 (Op. 79) has
a similarly heavy tread, which is a shame, because the rest of Masi's
performance is more or less impeccable.
The disc ends with a joyous reading of Sonata No. 28 (Op. 101), Masi
bringing Bach-like precision and grandeur to the counterpoint of the
finale. Combined with the irresistible pull of the final minutes, this
makes for a compelling reading, so the second half of the CD is much
better than the first.
The sound quality is a little boxy and studio-bound, with some very
fine playing in the Pathétique
spoiled by glassy treble
- and at 3:26 in that sonata's adagio, a loud click. This is one of
two Beethoven sonata CDs to arrive in my listening pile this summer
from recording engineer Joseph Patrych, and the other (with pianist
Beth Levin) was much worse. There's an executive producer named David
Strathairn, and I wonder if this is the same David Strathairn who is
an Oscar-nominated actor: Good Night and Good Luck
They've been in the same room together, at least; Strathairn narrated
a multimedia program about the life of Robert Schumann, and news
reports on the event
mention that Masi was in the audience.
Repeated listening has made me look with greater kindness on this disc.
is restorative; No. 28 is another major
success. Not everything is to my liking, and I wish the sound opened
up a bit and was kinder to the treble, but Steven Masi's playing is
interesting enough that I look forward to being stimulated and challenged
by future volumes.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven