If memory serves, pollini began his Beethoven sonata cycle in the late Seventies, so it has unfolded over four decades, reaching this next-to-last album in 2013, with the pianist in his 72nd year. Except for the release of the last six sonatas, which began the cycle o LP, each program has tended to match works according to the artist's own ideas. It's hard not to feel that this one is a catch-up, since it includes no ultra-popular sonata. Here's the program:
Piano Sonata No. 4 in E flat major, Op. 7
Piano Sonata No. 9 in E major, Op. 14 No. 1
Piano Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 14 No. 2
Piano Sonata No. 11 in B flat major, Op. 22.
Richter was even more selective, choosing not to play or record quite a number of works, including Op. the Moonlight and les Adieux Sonata, but we have two live performances from him of the Sonata in E-flat Op. 7, both from 1075. richter approached the work as stormy "real" Beethoven, not a holdover from Haydn, and Pollini, although more measured and stately at times, takes the same view, especially in the first movement. This may also be the time to announce that in comparison to the hard, glassy sound that mars his late sonatas, even after a 2009 remastering for DG's Originals series, the sound on this CD is glorious. the instrument is gleaming and rich, the ambience of the Herkulessaal in Munuch breathes beautifully, and we are sitting close enough to be completely engaged. the result is so warm, both in the playing and the instrumental sound, as to dispel any notion that Pollini is a cool or aloof pianist (a canard I never accepted).
Age has made Pollini's Beethoven more poised than daring, and perhaps it was good that he waited so long to perform these relatively obscure sonatas; in his hands they are a model of classical balance and elegance. The pearly touch Pollini brings to the first movement of Op. 14 no. 1 is delightful. The finale of the same sonata has remarkable pre-echoes, so to speak, of Schubert's Rondo writing in his late piano works. The two buoyant Op. 14 sonatas find Beethoven in a party mood (or as close as he came) without a true slow movement between them. Like the rest of the program, Op. 22 is in a major-key and feels relatively uncomplicated, but this isn't to subtract from Beethoven's ingenious inventiveness. The first movement is witty, even a bit hare-brained in its mischievousness, as Pollini plays it. He's ebullient throughout, in fact, and I'd call his performance of Op. 22, along with the first movement of Op. 7, the high point of the program. He brings variety, relish, and alertness to every bar, defying the aging process.