Maurizio Pollini

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 7, 14, 22

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Milanese-born pianist Maurizio Pollini has a flawless technique that, for his champions, seems to merge with the virtuosic aspect of Beethoven's music. Few would disparage his readings of the late Beethoven sonatas, which like the composer's other late music reside at the limits of playability; Pollini does wonderful things there. Likewise, for Pollini's detractors, he has a willful interpretive streak that can jangle the nerves if you don't connect with what he's doing. There's plenty of ammunition for both sides of the debate on this recording, comprising an attractive selection of four early sonatas, two of them grand four-movement pieces of symphonic scope, and two, the pair of Op. 14 works, small lyrical works that look forward to the Romantics. Pollini does very well with the outer pair, the Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7, which was the first sonata to depart decisively from Haydn's world, and the Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat major, Op. 22, which in Pollini's hands really looks forward to the monumental accomplishments of Beethoven's middle period. The two smaller works of Op.14, however, are a good deal more troublesome. Generally taken as calm, pastoral, Mendelssohnian works, they become with Pollini nervous mutterings, with the major-key passages having the flavor of rushed little etudes. It's without question an original take, but there's a question as to whether it can stand up to precedent. Nevertheless, Pollini has lost neither technical flair nor boldness in his old age, and it's always worth hearing what he has to say.

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