Notes and Editorial Reviews
Generally speaking I am impatient with the view that comparative evaluation of fine performances (whether on recordings or in competitions) is a fruitless exercise. But in this case there is a genuine difficulty. These are both fine performances (a rarer commodity than many seem to think) and are temperamentally poles apart.
In the grave introduction to the Pathetique O'Conor's accents barely reach a mezzo forte, at least on Barenboim's scale (EMI); Barenboim's accents are off O'Conor's scale altogether. It is Barenboim's view of Beethoven that the Telarc sleeve-note seems to be describing—the agony of the Heiligenstadt Testament, the drama, the searching, the philosophical depths. O'Conor is more civilized, more restrained,
the drama never threatening to disturb his equanimity.
All of which must make him sound rather bland, and even after becoming attuned to his gentle manners some of the playing does still seem pale and featureless. But as the disc goes on the approach begins to exert its own fascination. How beautifully the second subject of the Pathetique flows, how good to be spared the usual over-pedalling in the finale of the Moonlight or the over-projection of the left hand in the Appassionata slow movement (as if the listener is too stupid to hear it for himself), and the natural pacing and voicing of the Moonlight first movement makes others sound over-complicated. Clarity of texture is obviously a high priority for O'Conor (plenty of top-rankers would be delighted if they could make the Appassionata finale so clear as this) and the recording serves him well—a beautiful instrument in a beautiful acoustic.
This is a temperate, Mendelssohnian Beethoven which declines to interpose a strong personality between composer and listener. Barenboim shows how inspiring the more usual high-powered approach can be, but O'Conor is thought-provoking and offers a fresh, unexpected and unselfconscious new angle on this much-recorded repertoire.
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