Maurizio Pollini’s Beethoven Sonatas cycle has reached completion after nearly 40 years. The Beethoven cycle began in June 1975 with opp. 109 and 110, and reached completion this year with the final CD, of the three sonatas op. 31 and the two of op. 49. This latter recording will appear as a single CD simultaneously with the box set. This is the first Beethoven cycle on DG since those of Barenboim and Gilels in the 1980s.
To understand why several Beethoven Sonata cycles hit the market every year is to understand how the record industry has changed: from making monuments to making business cards. For a pianist a Beethoven Sonata cycle is the ultimate business card, which is why we see such efforts (andRead more very fine, too) from Paavali Jumppanen or Mari Kodama or Jonathan Biss or Stewart Goodyear. But one cycle issued last year is still a monument amid business cards: Maurizio Pollini’s. By my Beethoven Sonata Survey, it’s the ninety-sixth complete cycle to come out, but after four decades in the making it has every bit the feel of a classic, like Kempff, Arrau, Backhaus, or Brendel. That’s partly because Pollini is one of the last active titans of the ivories, and partly because the set is anchored around his towering, legendary 1975/77 recording of the last sonatas. His “Hammerklavier” is a pianistic Matterhorn, imposing and awesome. Thomas Mann spent a whole chapter in Dr. Faustus on op.111 — listening to Pollini, I wonder why not an entire book.
There is a sort of unforgiving relentlessness to Pollini that suits late Beethoven particularly well. After having climbed the first movement of Op. 111 with vigor, Pollini is disarmingly lyrical and gentle in the slow movement. His hands just purl off notes in all shapes and forms. Larger clusters of notes are churned out with such precision that every note has the same value, length, and force, making him seem like a sort of mechanical toy with everything falling perfectly in place and giving an otherwise unachievable coherence. But Pollini is much more than the stereotype of the cold, inhumanly perfect technician, and he also shines beyond (or, rather, before) late Beethoven. His ‘Appassionata’ is downright emotive. His interpretations, literally brilliant, go some way in shining light on the less popular, shorter Op. 54, and especially Op. 90, which is elevated to unusual grandeur. The tension Pollini builds in the growling, looming approach of the op.10/3 Largo shows that he has plenty to say in the early works. His ‘Pathétique’ is a crystalline, almost disturbing account. No trace of Haydn, and every note audible. It might send people scurrying to the comfort of softer takes, but Pollini changes your perception of these works for good.
This quality holds up in all of his now-fulfilled cycle. And at less than a year per sonata, there is nothing that sounds rushed or thoughtless; everything is full of finesse, delivered with careful deliberation. Quite the contrast to the “24-hour” cycles of artists like Mélodie Zhao (yea) and HJ Lim (nay). Between silver-fingered and granitic, Pollini’s Beethoven is, if you pardon the petrological pun, something to marble at. Pollini opted for a couple of live takes to be included in this set over his studio recordings (Opp. 26, 53) in which a wee bit of occasional humming adds a touch of Keith Jarrett. Given the magnitude of this set, Deutsche Grammophon might have gone all-out in the presentation; they stopped at “very nice.”
A wonderful surprise!June 22, 2015By Eulogio G. (Shelton, CT)See All My Reviews"To say that these recordings of Beethoven's complete piano sonatas are amazing is to not give them sufficient credit. I as a classical music collector tend to use boxed sets as introductions to a given entity whether a composer, artist, orchestra, conductor; etc. From that intro if I like the music I begin searching for more refined versions of it. Such were my expectations when I began playing the set. I was totally blown away. The music was beautiful. The recording is crisp and Mr. Pollini's playing is absolutely scary. If it doesn't raise the hair on the back of your head what can I say. I recommend this set with all my musical heart. I know I will never need another version of the Piano Sonatas. I am sure that anyone that listens to these versions will feel the same. Take the chance. You will be glad you did."Report Abuse
PolliniApril 29, 2015By Wallace C. (Sydney, New South Wales)See All My Reviews"Excellent interpretation from a master of the keyboard. I am a fan of Pollini,have been for many years,he does not disappoint in these CDs."Report Abuse
Timeless treasures spotlessly preservedApril 21, 2015By M.J.C. B. (Groningen, Groningen)See All My Reviews"This copious set o of cd's, meant as a present for a friend, did its work above all expectations. We all are very happy with this beatiful release and also with the careful wrapping, the speedy delivery and on top of it: the attractive price. Thank you very much! Best regards, M.J.C. Bijl"Report Abuse