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Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No 1-3 / Maurizio Pollini

Release Date: 01/22/2008 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001039902   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is Pollini's most arresting Beethoven release since he set down the late sonatas 30 years ago.

– Gramophone

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 1 in f; No. 2 in A; No. 3 in C Maurizio Pollini (pn) DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001039902 (65:27)

As enigmatic as he is legendary, Mauricio Pollini here returns to the scene of Munich’s Herkulessaal to continue his ongoing Beethoven cycle. As with everything Pollini does, his recording projects undergo lengthy periods of gestation Read more and meticulous preparation, this latest release, recorded in 2007, being no exception.

Pollini has long been one of the world’s most admired, even revered, pianists, but he is by no means the most beloved. Many find his playing overly analytical and icy. Technical perfection may be held in awe, but it can also be a liability if perceived to be a superficial gloss that veils an empty soul. Granted, Pollini is not the only great artist to have been charged with this criticism, but in his case, I do take exception to it.

Pollini is an intellectual, as opposed to intuitive, re-creator of the works he plays, rebuilding the edifice structurally from the ground up. He does not necessarily see a work as a sequence of interconnected phrases and related passages, but as an organic entity that is complete only in its wholeness. The result is a performance that tends not to dwell on individual moments or one that proceeds from one “significant” event to the next (i.e., pillar to post), but one in which no single event is more significant than is another.

The impression—and it’s just that, an “impression”—is as if the piece were being executed without emotion or expression, until the full picture is developed and we become aware of the x-ray-like image of the supporting skeleton on which the entire structure hangs. And so it is with these three op. 2 Beethoven sonatas, the earliest of the composer’s essays in the form to be published.

Are there more fanciful, ear titillating, zanier accounts than these, perhaps more in keeping with Beethoven’s youthful delight in the wicked and wacky effects of shock humor? Probably: Ashkenazy, Wilhelm Kempff, András Schiff, and Craig Sheppard, among others come to mind. But there is also much in these early sonatas that is very serious and that anticipates the Beethoven to come. The Adagio of the C-Major Sonata, in particular, foreshadows the quiet ecstasy suspended in motionless time that will become a pronounced feature in many of the later works.

Out of the blue, so it would seem, come two ff interjections in this movement (mm. 53–54) that are easily traceable to the pattern of a dotted 16th and a 32nd note followed by two 16th notes that appears in the movement’s first two bars. But where does that come from? Is it not traceable to the very first measure that announces the opening salvo of the sonata’s first movement, not only rhythmically, but melodically as well? The starting note descends a whole step, returns to the starting note, moves up by a half step, and then falls by a minor third. Now look at the second full bar of the Scherzo—same thing. Disguised among the compound meter eighth notes that launch the Allegro assai, and therefore not as obvious to the eye but picked up immediately by the ear, is once again the same pattern.

Now, the significance of all this is not just that Beethoven in this very early work has already crafted an organic entity in which individual movements are not independent pieces that can be freely exchanged among other compositions—Mozart did likewise—but that under Pollini’s microscope you will hear these connections and grasp their full potential once the work has been revealed, as suggested above, in its totality. Few other pianists I know of possess this laser-like acuity. Instead of scattering the light into myriad particles that are deflected hither and thither by singular events along the way, Pollini is focused like a sunray concentrated through a magnifying glass on the singularity of the whole.

This release—and, for that matter, all of Pollini’s more recent Beethoven sonata cycle CDs—are indispensable items for those who care passionately about this repertoire. Is that an urgent recommendation? You bet.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 2 no 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  Hercules Hall, Munich, Germany 
Length: 19 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 2 no 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  Hercules Hall, Munich, Germany 
Length: 22 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano no 3 in C major, Op. 2 no 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Maurizio Pollini (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794-1795; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 09/2006 
Venue:  Hercules Hall, Munich, Germany 
Length: 23 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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