Stories » Fire, urgency, and a deep-toned introspection of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas by Murray Perahia / Financial Times

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Fire, urgency, and a deep-toned introspection of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas by Murray Perahia / Financial Times

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It has taken Murray Perahia 40 years to feel he is ready to record Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Piano Sonata, Op.106. Toying with the sonata in his mid-20s apparently convinced him it needed greater maturity. Having now turned 70, he has certainly allowed it that.

Perhaps inevitably, this majestic performance feels like something of an artistic summation. It is cast on an opulent scale. When Beethoven wrote the "Hammerklavier" exactly 200 years ago, in 1818, he is known to have been yearning for a piano that went beyond any instrument known at the time. In this performance one can imagine Perahia sitting at a modern grand in one of today's largest concert halls, as he rolls forth playing of sonic splendour, almost like a piano transcription of a Beethoven symphony.

The contrasting elements of the sonata are held together in a kind of Olympian equilibrium. The performance is neither especially fast, nor slow. It has fire and urgency, but also introspection, of a deep-toned, rather public kind.

There are so many ways to play this all-embracing work that none is likely to please everybody. Those who want the pianist to be taken to the limit might prefer a young firebrand (Igor Levit reached a pitch of intensity in his recent Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall) whereas Perahia stays magisterially in command. His is a lofty "Hammerklavier", and none the worse for that.

He has coupled it with a favourite earlier sonata, the "Moonlight", Op.27 No.2, which is played with hardly less fullness of tone, colour or breadth of imagination. With the most challenging of all Beethoven sonatas out of the way, maybe Perahia will now give us more.