Murray Perahia

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Opp. 26, 14, 28

(CD - Sony Classical Essential Classics #732646)

Review by

In Beethoven, as in Schubert, Schumann, and Mozart, the more lyrical the piece, the better pianist Murray Perahia appears to be. On this 2008 disc joining four of Beethoven's early piano sonatas -- the big four movement A flat major and D major sonatas Opp. 26 and 28 and the little three-movement E major and G major, Op. 14/1 and Op. 14/2 -- Perahia is clearly at his best as a Beethoven player. There is a noble singing lyricism in his reading of the A flat major's opening Andante con variazioni and an unendingly lyrical line to his account of the D major's opening Allegro that seems more vocal than instrumental in its subtle phrasing. And the two little sonatas here sound like more than songs without words, they sound like vocalises, especially in the E major's lilting Allegretto and the G major's tender Andante. But in Perahia's hands even the A flat major's monumental central Funeral March sounds at times more like a choral work than a piano work. The American pianist achieves his sustained lines with a smooth blend of fingering, pedal work, and tempo rubato, plus an uncanny talent for balancing sonorities and textures to bring out the vocal qualities implied in every line. Though some longtime listeners may still puzzle over Perahia's earlier highly undramatic account of Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, the performances on this disc are easily among the finest ever recorded, matching if not quite exceeding even Schnabel's classic readings. Sony/BMG's digital sound is vivid but thankfully not overwhelming. Though released in early 2009, this is sure to be one of the discs of the year for many listeners.

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