Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 29,
op. 106, “Hammerklavier,” op. 106;
Dina Ugorskaja (pn)
AVI 8553256 (73:59)
Within the often explored galaxy sometimes referred to as “The 32,” the sonatas designated with opp. 106 and 111 occupy a very special place. The former (now commonly known as the “Hammerklavier”) is Beethoven’s longest and most difficult work for piano, and the mere mention of the daunting,
extended fugue that concludes this behemoth is likely to strike deadly fear in even the greatest of virtuosos. Though shorter and slightly less technically challenging, op. 111 arguably demands even more from the pianist by way of spiritual virtuosity—the mysterious
, a series of unconventional variations on an otherworldly theme, is among the most mystical music known to man.
On this new disc, pianist Dina Ugorskaja offers beautifully conceived, probing, and oftentimes illuminating performances of Beethoven’s masterpieces. There is frankness, integrity, and intelligence to Ugorskaja’s playing, and the kind of sincerity that nearly disarms criticism. Ugorskaja’s instrumental technique is superlative, as is her tone, which positively glows throughout the recital. As much as I enjoyed Ugorskaja’s playing, there are a couple of critical observations that I feel I owe to readers. My first observation concerns the “Hammerklavier,” where Ugorskaja’s aristocratic, Apollonian playing (particularly in the first and last movements) may not be for everyone’s taste. Pianists like Wilhelm Backhaus, Solomon, Rudolf Serkin, and Sviatoslav Richter, among my favorites, deliver this score with a degree of gravitas and muscularity I found lacking in Ugorskaja’s playing. My second observation concerns the aforementioned
, where Ugorskaja occasionally slows down her (already somewhat sedate) basic tempo in puzzling ways, including at times when transitioning from one variation to the next. I am not sure whether this deliberate approach is intended to communicate an artistic message, but, at least to my ears, it halts the inexorable forward momentum of this miraculous piece of music.
The quality of the recorded sound is superlative and it does full justice to the young pianist’s cultivated sonority. In sum, although I would not give this recording my highest rating, it is still a stimulating release. I look forward to hearing more from Ugorskaja.
FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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