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SACD Review

Ludwig van Beethoven

Last Three Piano Sonatas

  • Sonata for Piano #30 in E Major, Op. 109
  • Sonata for Piano #31 in A Flat Major, Op. 110
  • Sonata for Piano #32 in C minor, Op. 111
Artur Pizarro, piano
Linn CKD225 Hybrid SACD 62 mins
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Artur Pizarro, winner of the 1990 Leeds International Piano Competition, is slowly traversing the Beethoven sonatas in a leisurely cycle at St. John's, Smith Square, London. He will be playing five mid-period sonatas on 16 October, when this CD is scheduled to be launched. All his recitals there are being recorded for broadcasting on Radio 3. I heard one of the recitals live and found it disappointing, the acoustics of that church unsympathetic to the piano. It sounded better on the radio, but best of all in the Linn recordings.

For the CDs the choice of a Blüthner 'grand model 1' has been a decisive plus in this most competitive repertoire. I enjoyed greatly Pizarro's earlier recording of four of the most popular "named" sonatas (Moonlight, Tempest, Pathétique and Appassionata LINN CKD209) and endorse the record company's claim that the Blüthner 'allows Artur's attuned sense of lyricism and romantic line to flourish'.

These performances of the three late sonatas too have a fine, confident sweep and display Pizarro's easy, fluent virtuosity. Pizarro's approach is meticulously faithful to the texts and respects rests. It has an intimacy and dynamic reticence which I liked, and the studio recording and careful pedalling ensure clarity. It sounded well on several different equipments and, anyhow, listener nowadays has a lot of control according to taste.

The broadcast performances at St. John's have been given on a Steinway, and I have no hesitation in preferring the commercial studio recordings, which preserve a feeling of engagement and spontaneity, even though that be illusory in music whose every mark on paper has been subjected to exhaustive analysis over the years. These landmark compositions have influenced the future of piano music and can stand endless repetition and different interpretations. This bids fair to become another recorded Beethoven cycle in the making, its completion presumably depending upon sales.

You should be able to access three representative movements offered on Linn's website. There is excellent coverage of Pizarro and his Beethoven project, including a useful interview with Artur Pizarro, on the BBC Website. Well worth exploring.

Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf