Beethoven: Piano Sonatas
106 “Hammerklavier” & op. 27/2 “Moonlight”
Murray Perahia, piano
Deutsche Grammophon, 2018
Internationally acclaimed pianist Murray Perahia has already recorded several successful albums of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano works, but it took a long time before he felt ready to record the challenging “Hammerklavier” Sonata. As he recently explained, he performed this work for the first time in his mid-twenties, but was not satisfied with it and put it aside for forty years. He went back to it just few years ago. Finally, the “Hammerklavier” has been released together with one of Beethoven’s most popular piano sonatas, the so-called “Moonlight” Sonata. Both the “Hammerklavier” (written between 1817 and 1818) and the “Moonlight” Sonatas (dating to 1801) were considered as revolutionary works when they were performed for the first time. Their innovative character is the main reason why they are presented here together.
Being around forty minutes long, the “Hammerklavier” Sonata would have been an extremely taxing work even without its many technical demands. However, Perahia is extremely effective and subtle in his performance, justifying the long preparation of the Sonata with a riveting performance.
The first movement (Allegro) begins with joyous chords, immediately adding another mood – melancholic this time – and then returning back to sparkling and joyous sounds. These shifts go on for the entire movement, which appears as a manifestation of different feelings and emotions, all vividly represented by Perahia with the skill and insight which are his own.
The second, short movement (Scherzo. Assai vivace) draws the listener’s attention for its brisk and incisive character, to which Perahia gives promincence first and foremost thanks to his wise and intelligent use of dynamics. He creates a really mesmerising atmosphere, where it is possible to guess his amusement besides his commitment.
The third movement (Adagio sostenuto) is the longest and the saddest of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata, but Perahia carries it out with the usual accomplishment. His playing is imperturbable and always expressive and the music flows in the most natural and easiest way. The constant feeling of melancholy which characterizes this piece varies only in intensity.
Apart from its gloomy beginning, the fourth movement (Largo, Allegro risoluto) is amazingly shimmering and Perahia finds incredibly vivid colours to embellish it. Here, he really offers an extended display of skill and technical brilliance and ends the “Hammerklavier” Sonata in the most perfect way.
I like to think of the “Moonlight” Sonata as Perahia performs it as the expression of three different frames of mind. In the first movement (Adagio sostenuto), the pianist describes a “nocturnal” atmosphere which really justifies the nickname of the work, even though, as it is known, it was not given by Beethoven. The choice of dynamics and the dilatation of time are two equally important components in the creation of the typical “nocturnal” sound of the piece.
In the second movement (Allegretto), Perahia describes a feeling of delicate amusement with exquisite elegance. The last movement (Presto agitato) is in my personal opinion the climax of this “Moonlight” Sonata. It is a very energetic piece and Perahia makes use of all his expressive power and stamina to give prominence to its vibrancy. The tempo is fast, pressing, but all the nuances with which it was possible to colour this piece are in the right place and the result is that the tragic depth of this soaring music is perfectly understandable.
With this recording of the “Hammerklavier” and of the “Moonlight” Sonatas, Murray Perahia has offered another sample of his consummate skill. There is not a single moment in which you think that something is missing and that there is not a precise thought behind such a accurate and committed performance. Everything is balanced. The technical demands of the two works become a way to get to the heart of music and to express it in a new, unheard-of way.
After having chosen two works that have been considered groundbreaking at the time of their first performance, it can be said without possibility of error that Perahia has made them original inventions once again.