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Maurizio Pollini was always a nervy creature: his standard recital pattern has been to play the first half in an embarrassed rush, but then to recover himself with a magical second half. That seemed to me how his approach to this trio of masterpieces was going to pan out as he tore with heavy pedalling into the opening movement of Op 109, seemingly driven by a desperate urgency. The second movement was an angry blur; the theme and variations began with a busy matter-of-factness which turned into a storm. Would he calm down for Op 110?

No. The first movement should open delicately like a flower, but here it merely had a chugging cheerfulness, and there was no sense of wonder; the Allegro molto had a rough-hewn jollity. In the final sequence of moods and modes, which should feel like an epic journey, there was no moment where Pollini – and we – could pause for thought and take stock of where we were; the arioso sections didn’t sing, and the final rush to the summit seemed to be over much too fast. Pollini evinced a fine fury in the Maestoso and Allegro of Op 111, but the majestic finale never once touched the heavens.

Afterwards, I listened back to Pollini’s 2014 recordings of these works – what a contrast! Here was everything I wanted, both from him and from Beethoven. Clean sound, a poetic touch and a serene mastery of these supreme musical mysteries. He now claims to have discovered ‘new riches in every detail’ of this music, but if so, those riches elude me. Fans of this great pianist should stick with the superb sonata cycle he recorded in 2014.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica


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