Maurizio Pollini

Beethoven: Sonatas, Opp. 31 & 49

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This is the final installment in a Beethoven sonata cycle (now also available as a box set) begun by Maurizio Pollini in the 1970s. As such, listeners might think it would differ from cycles recorded as a single creative statement, but in fact Pollini's output over his long career has been remarkably stable, especially in regard to Beethoven. The group, Nos. 16-20, released in 2014, contains some of the least-recorded items among Beethoven's sonatas, namely the highly transitional Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31/1, and the two student pieces, the Piano Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49/1, and Piano Sonata No. 20 in G major, Op. 49/2. Pollini in no way tosses off these minor pieces; his readings have all the virtues and, some would say, flaws of his recordings of the bigger sonatas. He can seem emotionless, but nobody can make a movement of Beethoven sound like a single large gesture, with each note precisely controlled and smoothly inserted into the whole, like Pollini can. His Beethoven is commanding without being especially dramatic, and that's quite a trick. His approach seems a bit overdone in the two Op. 49 sonatas, which work best when they're done in a simple, limpid way. But the Op. 31 group is coherent and controlled, with little outbursts of temper bursting through, and a bit of warmth allowed into the pastoral Op. 31/3. Those who have admired Pollini's Beethoven in the past will be very satisfied with this capstone to his Beethoven efforts.

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