Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Piano Sonatas 'Quasi Una Fantasia'

Academic journal article The Beethoven Journal

Piano Sonatas 'Quasi Una Fantasia'

Article excerpt

"Piano Sonatas 'Quasi una Fantasia'": in E-flat Major, Opus 27, no. 1; in C-sharp Minor, Opus 27, no. 2 ("Moonlight"); in E Major, Opus 109. Maria João Pires, piano. DG453 457-2. DDD. 51'6''. © 2001. $10.98.

The Portugese pianist Maria João Pires, now approaching sixty, plays a wide-ranging repertory from the Classical period to the twentieth century, but she is known especially for her sensitive and intelligent Mozart performances (she has recorded the complete sonatas). Pires s training reflects the Germanic classical tradition: she studied with Karl Engel in Munich and won first prize at the Beethoven Competition in Brussels in 1970.

In packaging and performances, this is a unique and rewarding disk. First, the unique element: the packaging, instead of the usual plastic jewel case, consists of a textured cardboard folder with flaps that open out to reveal the disk itself on a spindle made of a piece of cork. Each of the flaps, as well as the enclosed CD booklet, contains excerpts from poems by Hermann Hesse, Rilke, and Eichendorff; sayings; and quotations from Furtwängler, Proust, and Beethoven. Throughout are scattered beautiful photographs of moonlight shining through trees and bits of country landscapes. It is a handsome work of art, designed by Pires herself, and elegantly produced by DG.

Her Beethoven interpretations demonstrate die same qualities that inform her Mozart playing: meticulous observance of the scores details and a direct approach that emphasizes classical restraint that is sensitive but never sentimental. She has an excellent technique, but virtuosity is not the outstanding feature of these performances.

The "fantasia" element of the first of the Opus 27 sonatas (so often overlooked by pianists in favor of its better-known sister, the "Moonlight") is derived primarily from the unusual structure of the first movement, whose opening statement, a sedate section in a moderate tempo, is interrupted by a completely contrasting energetic section in another key. The opening music returns, and the movement dies away quietly. Pires makes the most of these contrasts; the opening music is quiet and sober, and the following fast section leaps out with bright energy. This movement doesn't have the hypnotic dreaminess of the "Moonlight," but it certainly foreshadows a similar procedure in the first movement of Opus 109, composed twenty years later, where, in the opening movement, the interruptions of mood are, perhaps, more striking - but the unpredictability that characterizes a "fantasy" is there too, and thus justifies the inclusion of Opus 109 under the rubric "quasi una fantasia. …

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