BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas 1-3 / Pollini


Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-3
Maurizio Pollini
Int. Release 22 Oct. 2007
0289 477 6594 3
Pollini continues his celebrated cycle of Beethoven Sonatas

Track List

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Sonata No. 1 In F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1




Piano Sonata No. 2 In A Major, Op. 2, No. 2

Piano Sonata No. 3 In C Major, Op. 2, No. 3



Maurizio Pollini

Total Playing Time 1:05:13

Pollini shares András Schiff's propensity for lean, biting fortepiano-like textures and acute attention to detail, but with more fire and brio . . . The F minor and C major Sonatas' outer movements nearly fly off the printed page, while each work's third movement dances on air in a weightless one-beat-to-a-bar. By contrast, the pianist's eloquence and sustaining power justify his expansive trajectory in the slow movements. This is Pollini's most arresting Beethoven release since he set down the late sonatas 30 years ago.

. . . brilliant, commanding, and entirely convincing . . . He is crisp and confident, taking full advantage of the extraordinary music Beethoven has written . . . his playing is mature and logical . . . Evenness of line becomes important here, and Pollini provides that admirably . . . compellingly, sometimes grippingly . . . And we are reminded: Gosh, young Beethoven was good -- right out of the blocks.

This release -- and, for that matter, all of Pollini's more recent Beethoven sonata cycle CDs -- are indispensable items for those who care passionately about this repertoire. Is that an urgent recommendation? You bet.

Nie klangen die Sonaten op. 2 klarer, reifer, jugendfrischer . . . Pollinis Beethoven ist frei von Mätzchen, herb, 'männlich' . . . vollendeter Reichtum der Abstufungen, unaufgeregte Frische und wohlbedachte Natürlichkeit, die ihresgleichen in der pianistischen Szene kaum finden. Hier ist alles exakt -- nichts ist mechanisch. Alles ist 'Reife des Alters' -- greisenhaft nichts. Pollini trifft immer 'ins Schwarze'.

. . . [er] durchleuchtet auch bei diesen frühen Sonaten Ludwig van Beethovens die Architektur sehr markant, indem er Transparenz walten lässt, indem er sich letztlich einer zu subjektiven Zugehensweise entzieht . . . Der Interpret rückt sich trotz verinnerlichter Momente nicht zu weit in den Vordergrund . . . Er zeigt im Frühen schon das Eigene, das sich vom Vorbild Haydn entfernt. Er nutzt die langsamen Sätze unaufgeregt zu dynamischen Feinstudien. Und er entdeckt in der großräumigen Sonate C-Dur, die er in den schnellen Sätzen durchaus funkelnd-brillant und zupackend angeht, schon den großen Beethoven. Es gibt im Grazioso der A-Dur-Sonate sogar auch lässige Momente. Und das Menuetto in der f-Moll-Sonate ist bei ihm kein polternder Tanz, sondern von Noblesse geprägt. Pollini zeigt wie immer viel Geschmack.

. . . he conveys all the music's darkness and urgency . . . . [C major no. 3]: Pollini delivers a fine account of the cadenza, as well as a dazzling performance of the virtuoso rondo finale . . . there is no doubting the mastery of the playing . . .

Unaufgeregt, aber mit großer Intensität, kontrastreich, jedoch mit höchster Eleganz -- so lässt sich Pollinis Ansatz beschreiben. Da ist ein Pianist am Werk, der niemandem, sich selbst am allerwenigsten noch etwas beweisen muss. Und das Ergebnis: Ein Beethoven-Spiel, das in seiner Klarheit und Tiefe besticht.

Bei Pollini sind die ersten Beethoven-Sonaten noch ganz nah an der Frühklassik: flott und federnd elegant, mit perlend leichter Geläufigkeit. Exakt proportioniertes Ebenmaß und ausgewogene Klarheit dominieren, alles Subjektive wird zurückgedrängt zugunsten einer kühl-überlegenen Durchsichtigkeit. Ein Grazioso klingt bei dem Italiener auch wirklich so, die langsamen Sätze bringen humane, lichte Innigkeit . . . Wie immer kann man gegen Pollinis Spiel kaum etwas sagen . . .

Il caracole, accuse les contrastes, fait montre d'une franchise et d'une exceptionnelle vivacité, qui se doublent d'une attention rare portée à la sonorité. Aux sonorité plutôt, car Pollini les veut toutes: claire, dense, lumineuse, profonde, cinglante. Comme s'il dirigeait un orchestre dont les touches seraient les solistes, les accords les pupitres. C'est prodigieux d'effervescence, de simplicité essentielle. Evidemment, comme tout bon musicien, il fait confiance au texte, mais il va plus loin que cela en y apportant de la couleur, en dessinant des pleins et des délies, des ombres et des lumières.


    Beethoven, living in Vienna since November 1792, made an unhurried and considered decision about the types of works with which to start his catalogue. His op. 1, three piano trios, appeared in the summer of 1795, issued by Artaria in the Austrian capital. The three piano sonatas comprising op. 2 were completed in the spring of 1795 and published by Artaria in March 1796, with a dedication to Haydn. These works are very different from one another, but - in their abundant wealth of ideas, creative tension, formal dimensions, four-movement structure and highly innovative piano writing - the sonatas stand together as a demonstration of a whole new artistic style.

    Concision and dark drama are the hallmarks of the Sonata no. 1 in F minor. The opening theme, propelled by an upward F minor arpeggio, has been compared with both of Mozart's G minor symphonies (K.183 and K.550), but it also exemplifies a type of figuration that was common currency at the time, a motif made famous by the Mannheim School of composers. The demonic tension created by this first theme never abates throughout the entire Allegro; the second theme could even be seen as a contrasting variant, but with the direction inverted. In this taut and economical movement, exposition, development and recapitulation are almost all the same length, and sonata form is used for dramatic purposes.

    The noble simplicity of the Adagio serves as a moment of repose. Beethoven's point of reference here is the type of ornamented slow movement found in Haydn and C.P.E. Bach. This may be the only part of the F minor sonata that relates back to the mood and style of Haydn, and it contains material that pre-dates the rest of the sonata: the melody of the Adagio in the C major Piano Quartet, one of three that Beethoven had composed in 1785, at the age of 15. In contrast, the D minor central passage is completely new, though it does not create any sense of a break in style.

    The third movement has the title and form of a minuet, but in character it seems to be neither that nor a scherzo, a further demonstration of its originality. Its structural function in the sonata is that of transition from the tranquillity of the Adagio to the tempestuous energy of the closing Prestissimo. The most striking aspect of the final, sonata-form movement comes at the beginning of the development, with an episode (marked “sempre piano e dolce") that contrasts with the prevailing tension of the larger work. While it stands apart from the thematic material of the finale, this passage could, however, be related to the first-theme arpeggio in the opening movement.

    There is an immediate change of character with the Sonata no. 2 in A major. The spontaneity and inventiveness of the inspiration is immediately manifested in the boldly virtuosic piano writing. The first movement is longer than that of the F minor Sonata, and quite different, too, in the wealth of internal contrast, such as that between the extrovert, energetic first theme, with its vigorous responsorial shape, and the cantabile, more intimate and contemplative second theme. The latter begins in E minor, and continues through restless modulations until, in a dramatic gesture, it absorbs the rapid descending figure that formed part of the first theme. The development is based on the first thematic group.

    The nobility and expressive intensity of the Largo appassionato have made it famous as one of Beethoven's first great slow movements. One striking aspect of the piano writing is the contrast between the legato theme and the staccato bass at the opening of the theme; later, this melodic intensity appears in the lower register as well. A powerful intermediate section is followed by the return of the pensive and solemn opening theme, which then becomes the main player in the closing section. Here the theme reappears much varied, and the mood becomes more agitated, with fortissimo and sforzando markings. Then the contrast subsides with the final appearance of the theme in a higher register, and in a new and transparently radiant “scoring".

    The third movement is described as a scherzo (Allegretto), and it serves as an intermezzo before the “grazioso" finale, with the central Trio sounding a note of melancholy and greater introversion. The final Rondo (in sonata rondo form) opens with a rapid rising arpeggio, followed by a wide leap, and it brings together virtuosic brilliance and a poetic vein of subtle nuance. There is, of course, some striking contrast, with the first episode in a march-like rhythm.

    The Sonata no. 3 in C major is the longest of the set, and its level of virtuosity reveals a more obvious debt to the piano style of Clementi. Another striking element is the symphonic breadth of the writing: the first movement has something concerto-like about it, and there is even a cadenza during the extended final coda (for which Clementi offers plenty of precedents). The exposition has a wealth of ideas, and also includes a second thematic group with a cantabile melody in G minor (an idea that came from the C major Piano Quartet of 1785, mentioned above), and another theme in G major, followed by a new, joyful and brilliant episode, and a conclusion. It is worth noting that the first theme, having taken the lead in the development, returns in the recapitulation in a highly varied form.

    The driving energy and brilliance of the Allegro vivace gives way to an Adagio which represents one of the young Beethoven's most poetic and intense slow movements. The choice of the key of E major seems to transport it to a different realm, one of an intimately expressive character, ranging from delicate lyricism to troubling episodes in the minor.

    The polyphonic play on the scherzo's brief theme and its punchy rhythm ensure the movement's unfailing energy and dynamism. And in the finale, an Allegro assai in sonata rondo form, the young Beethoven's powerful inventiveness can be seen in boldly virtuosic writing. The listener is drawn in by an overwhelming richness of ideas, crowned at the end by the wholly Beethovenian affirmation of radiant C major.

    Paolo Petazzi