Picks and Pans Review: Beethoven: Sonatas Nos. 4 and 11

updated 06/13/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/1983 01:00AM

Murray Perahia, piano

The deepest well in the bedrock of piano music is Beethoven's set of 32 sonatas. Of the three esteemed pianists who have recently drawn from it, Emil Gilels might be called the most objective player. There are no untoward passions released in his rendition of the exhilarating Sonata No. 18. In the opening movement, he measures carefully, playing down the contrasts, and avoids exploding the three descending bass notes that demarcate the first theme and the second. Gilels stresses elegance, clarity, fineness. At first hearing he may sound too cool, but within his apparently compressed spectrum he achieves a subtle range of shading and a captivating fluidity that beckon one back for repeated listens. From the first lyrical bars to the sudden upward rush of massed chords that climaxes the opening of the famous Appassionata sonata, Russell Sherman signals his vigor and irresistible drive. The onrushing last movement is a marvel in his sure hands, full of vertiginous peaks all the way to the madly swirling final climax. Liszt once described the pivotal middle movement as "a flower between precipices," and Sherman possesses the delicacy to make it bloom, though other pianists have made the blooming a bit more sublime. Thirty-six-year-old Murray Perahia grew up in the Bronx, but the cheer his art deserves is not of the Bronx kind. His tone is vibrant, colorful, crisp from top to bottom. His playing is both authoritative and relaxed, with a strong sense of nuance and narrative. He is also a gifted writer of prose. In his liner notes, he describes the Adagio of the Sonata No. 11 as exuding "enormous dignity and noble power, as when a large and powerful man speaks very softly and gently, not out of fear but because he attracts attention with the force of his personality rather than the force of his voice."

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