Maria Joao Pires's disc Beethoven: Sonatas "Quasi una fantasia"
is an unusual grouping, but the way she plays the sonatas, it makes perfect sense. And the first--the traditionally underrated Op.27 No 1--gains greatly through its juxtaposition. The singing line of its gentle opening movement is here underpinned by a tensile strength, which continues on through the spare octaves of its second movement until we arrive at the plangent warmth of the Adagio; the final Allegro is imbued with a joyful sense of release. Pires's treatment of the "Moonlight" sonata is exemplary: clean restraint is the quality which pervades it, whether in the opening movement or in the turbulent close. But the surprise of this CD lies in the third work; its first movement played so slowly. At first this seems ponderous--the ethereality normally associated with its flying figures is here replaced by burnished steel. But gradually one accepts her point, with the result that one can savour the ecstatic stillness she brings to the variations of the finale. With this disc, Pires's reputation for eccentricity is superbly maintained. --Michael Church