Linn Records
CDK 225
label website
For music historians, Beethoven's final three piano sonatas [Op. 109: No.30 in E; Op. 110: No. 31 in A flat; Op. 111: No. 32 in C] are the stuff of legend, the harbingers that, in their prescient visionary architecture, heralded the dawning romanticism of Liszt, Brahms and Schumann. Using a Blüthner concert grand model 1 and a hybrid SACD carrier with stereo and multi-channel embedded DSD streams, young Artur Pizarro embarks on his recreation of this historic journey with expressive lyricism. It combines precise articulation with exactly the sort of vigor and romantic color that the cited precursor context would beg. However, too often these masterworks are imbued with the thunderous, mercurial and belligerent character of Beethoven's latter-day persona. Or else, the dramatic subtext prompts a glacial and world-weary resolve in certain pianists.

The winner of 1990's Leeds International Piano Competition --and thought-after accompanist of chamber music virtuosos since -- eschews any impetuousness or disillusioned old-man antics here. Instead, he reveals the visionary poeticism and gentle beauty hiding in the deeper strata of these sonatas. Not unlike the famed audiophile eureka cry of "I'd never bloody heard any of this in xyz recording before" when High-End hardware buffs insert a new and superior component into their music systems, Artur Pizarro represents these over-played masterworks in a new light. It has you reach for music-lover equivalents of that old audiophile chestnut exclamation.

Revisionist? Hardly. This would suggest undue interpretative liberties. Pizarro is more subtle than that though the results are as obvious, far-reaching and potent. His playing suggests the old Beethoven returning to the fervor of his own youth. The excesses of pubescent immortality have been tempered by life's hard knocks. It's this uncanny fidelity to the twin poles of exuberance and gravitas that separates Pizarro's renditions from the heavily laden catalogue of these works. Put differently, it reveals an airier charm that will appeal to audiences previously reacting with a certain aloofness to this material. Veteran aficionados meanwhile will delight in the thoughtfulness of Pizarro's fresh approach. In either case, Linn's clearly carefully mastered recording, with an ambient-rich farfield perspective, is a jubilant follow-up to Pizarro's earlier release of four other Ludwig Van sonatas [Linn CDK 209]. Count me as one of those previously aloof listeners turned unexpectant convert - this CD will stay on my keep-close-by stack. Thanks to Linn's Kenny Morrison and Jennie Gardner for sending me a promo copy and thus reinvigorating my lost passion for the late Ludwig's solo piano works - I've seen the light, shadows be gone!