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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 Pathetique [19:14]
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2 Moonlight [15:36]
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 Appassionata [24:59]
Oleg Akkuratov (piano)
rec. 2017, Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatory, Moscow
MELODIYA MELCD1002552 [60:13]

Russian pianist Oleg Akkuratov (b. 1989), like the amazing Nobuyuki Tsujii, is a blind pianist of extraordinary skill and accomplishment. But unlike Tsujii, Akkuratov has scored his first successes in the realm of jazz. Even his educational background seemed initially to tilt toward jazz: he studied at the Moscow State Music College of Variety and Jazz Art with Mikhail Okun. He had further studies in jazz but then, on the Classical front, graduated from the Rostov State Conservatory where his teachers included Vladimir Daich. Despite his strong ties to jazz, he considers himself a classical pianist first, with jazz as a sort of sideline or hobby. By the way, he’s also a singer!

Listening to this disc, I would never suspect that Akkuratov had a jazz background. His fine sense for phrasing in general betrays no crossover compromises, no hint of a jazz style lurking beneath the surface. It appears that Akkuratov can, like André Previn before him, move chameleonically from jazz to classical. Everything fits a solid Classical mould here, from the pianist’s handling of rhythms and subtle use of rubato to his well judged tempos and wide-ranging dynamics. Listen to how he imparts a sense of mystery and drama to the beginning of the Pathetique Sonata: the opening chord strikes with ominous power and lingers momentarily, the ensuing notes completing the sense of foreboding, of uncertainty. Akkuratov plays the Allegro music with a feeling of urgency and thrust, and shapes the entire first movement to deliver a maximum yield of tension and mystery, with nothing overdone or understated. The second movement is lovely in its flowing cantabile lines, the bass notes often underpinning the melody with a fulsome warmth. The Rondo finale is, appropriately, busy and light, the pianist capturing every emotional tic in the music, thanks to his subtle and multi-graded dynamics and deftly applied though typically sparing rubato. Tempos throughout are in the moderate range, and that is pretty much the case in the other two sonatas as well.

One exception to that observation would be the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. Here, Akkuratov wisely chooses a tempo slightly on the brisk side. Pianists who treat this Adagio like a Largo or Larghetto sabotage their cause, ultimately bogging the music down, making it actually sound boring. Akkuratov is anything but boring here: because he gives a measure of vitality to the running rhythmic figure accompanying the main theme, he is able to impart weight and greater darkness to its funereal essence. The whole movement thus has more bite and grimness than you encounter in most performances. The second movement is light and vivacious, offering effective contrast to the preceding music. The finale is driven and filled with anxiety, owing not just to Akkuratov’s very suitable fast tempo, but because of his deft use of dynamics, the sound swelling and receding as the emotional pitch rises and falls. This is another excellent performance.

Akkuratov’s account of the Appassionata Sonata features the same kind of interpretive insights. For instance, his use of the pedal in the first movement, especially in the big outbursts early on, is subtle and never overdone. He favors a bigger, epic approach, the main theme sounding ominous alright, but imposing and stately as well. The faster music is less harried than usual, less anxious, though still driven and sufficiently lively. The Andante second movement is played as a mostly subdued respite from the drama of the previous panel, appropriately so. Akkuratov enlivens the third variation with such an uplifting sense, the demisemiquavers running with a confident, colorful flow, the music moving ahead with both optimism and carefree nonchalance. One might think the syncopation in this movement could tempt Akkuratov, with his jazz background, to play it with a different lilt, but his handling of it is perfectly fine, perfectly fitting. Akkuratov builds on the anxiety and tension in the finale with his usual assets: balanced voicing, judicious tempo choices, deft accenting and a wide, sensitively applied range of dynamics.

All three of these performances of what are arguably Beethoven’s most popular piano sonatas are excellent then. The competition is stiff, but I’m not sure that Schnabel, Brendel, Buchbinder, Barenboim, Ashkenazy, Korstick or any of an array of fine pianists offer significantly better performances. In fact, though you can get these exact couplings on one disc with another pianist, I doubt you’d do better. Akkuratov is that good. Melodiya’s sound reproduction is fine. This is certainly a superb debut disc from the young Oleg Akkuratov.
Robert Cummings



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