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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 28 in A, Op. 101 (1816) [22:23]
Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat, Op. 106, 'Hammerklavier' (1817-1818) [46:18]
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
rec. La Salle de Musique, Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 2007
PHILIPS 4758662 [68:51]

Following my first acquaintance with Uchida’s 2005 account of the last three sonatas (review), I hurried to acquire this subsequent recording.

My MusicWeb International colleague Colin Clarke in his review of this issue expressed reservations similar to those in his previous assessment of Uchida’s 2005 recording of the last sonatas. I can only say that after listening several times, I do not share his concerns but am rather more in awe than ever of her technical proficiency, leonine power and aesthetic sensitivity in both these works. In this regard, I join the ranks of critics such as Michael Tanner and Robert Levine, who respectively declared, “This disc is of a calibre that I count myself lucky to encounter once in a decade” and “This is a superlative achievement.” Far from finding that she lingers or loses intensity, I am swept along by the propulsive momentum of her playing – and the clarity of her articulation is enhanced by the excellence of the recorded sound here, which is beautifully spaced and ideally resonant.

What I most admire about Uchida’s playing is the combination of detail and almost reckless attack when needs be. Dynamic range and gradation are given the most careful attention and her rhythmic sense in the syncopations of the opening of the Hammerklavier is ideal. It is true that she takes a little more time in delineating certain figures than more direct performers such as Pollini but for me that never sounds mannered, but instead considered.

The “Adagio sostenuto” is comparatively leisurely but finds Uchida at her poetic best, but just when you are admiring the rapt delicacy of her phrasing, she produces passages of extraordinary power, especially in the left hand.

Much of the music in both sonatas is typical of Beethoven’s later œuvre, in that it is difficult and challenging, with abrupt departures and ruptures in the musical argument and peculiarities of structure, but to my ears Uchida makes the strongest possible case for it by imposing an overall concept suggestive of a deep and mature contemplation of the music’s import.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Colin Clarke



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