Murray Perahia opens the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata serenely and softly (well he does if you go to track five, otherwise the unassuming listener gets the bold opening of the ‘Hammerklavier’, a fortissimo shock), offering something sustained and transporting (impressionism before the term was coined). The remaining two movements follow attacca, an airy intermezzo perfectly paced and shaped, and then the tempestuous Finale (a precursor to a silent-film score) is attacked at speed and vividly, Perahia’s fingers nimble and accurate, although the venue is somewhat resonant and can cloud textures and accentuate somewhat unpleasantly the piano’s treble frequencies.
The ‘Hammerklavier’ is a mixed success, not including reservations about the jangly sound of the upper-register (it’s variable though) and, during both works, there are some clicks and thumps that producer Andreas Neubronner either missed or wasn’t concerned about. The outer movements come off best, the first (repeat observed) an imposing mix of grandeur and controlled impetuosity – fiery, lyrically charged and dynamic – and the madcap Finale, fugal insanity, is brought off magnificently with intensity and also moments of breathing space that monumentalise the music to reveal the Bach that lurked within Beethoven (try from 3’39” for a few seconds, and also the reproduction is at its best in this movement).
But the Scherzo, although well-paced, is lacking in humour (Alfred Brendel has devoted lectures to this aspect of Beethoven’s creativity) and Perahia throws-away what is surely meant as a quizzical pause, which doesn’t arrive at 1’30”. With the slow movement there is much that is sublime, although greater space would have been welcome, not necessarily to the ‘heavenly lengths’ of, say, Solomon, Lill, Gilels or Eschenbach (as recorded) but just a little more raptness or, conversely, less restlessness would have been to the music’s benefit, as would less-accentuated loudness and edge in, yes, the treble. So, swings and roundabouts!