Murray Perahia

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Op. 106 "Hammerklavier" & Op. 27/2 "Moonlight"

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The American pianist Murray Perahia has recovered from hand problems and released memorable albums as he has entered senior citizenhood, and this Beethoven recital may be the best of the bunch. The combination of the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1 ("Moonlight") and the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 111 ("Hammerklavier"), brings together Beethoven's single most famous sonata and the one that has proven most forbidding for listeners. It might seem odd, but in Perahia's hands the program makes sense: both sonatas are formally radical and contain slow movements of deep mysterious gloom, brief insouciant scherzos, and furiously virtuosic assertions of self. Perahia's "Hammerklavier" runs counter to type right from the beginning, with opening chords that are almost introductory rather than imposing. But stick with it, and you'll find that almost every phrase has been opened up and considered anew. The opening movement is far from furious and is almost deliberate, but it emerges as a contrapuntal match for the fugue finale in a way that has never quite been accomplished before. This almost leaves Perahia with nowhere to go in the slow movement, but here, too, he builds to a point of intensity: the vanishing end of the movement, and the extraordinary false starts to the fugue. In the sonata's extreme technical difficulties, Perahia turns out not to have lost even a step technically: sample the "Moonlight" finale for an idea, and for an example of the weight he gives the work. A fascinating Beethoven statement from a major artist, and one that gives the listener much to chew on in repeated hearings.

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