Beethoven: Piano Sonatas – No 29 in B flat major, Op 106 (Hammerklavier); No 14 in C sharp minor, Op 27 No 2 (Moonlight)

Reviewed on Fri 28 Nov, 2014

It’s in at the deep (and the divine) ends of Beethoven’s piano sonatas – the gargantuan Hammerklavier and dreamlike Moonlight – for Alessio Bax’s first encounter with the composer on disc. The Hammerklavier is not to be attempted too early in a pianist’s career, but Bax, now in his mid-30s, has clearly come to it at the right time. It’s a reading distinguished by one impressive technical accomplishment after another: the opening Allegro vivid and fresh, the imposing Adagio sostenuto dispatched with consummate eloquence, the finale ripely balancing poetry and drama. There’s revealing nuance aplenty, too, in playing that stands comparison with the best in the field: Richter, Kempff, Gilels and, not least, Brendel, whose probing poetic pragmatism is everywhere in evidence on a major accomplishment for the young Italian. The Moonlight Sonata is just as vital: Bax liquescently graceful throughout yet forcefully robust in the concluding Presto agitato. Bax’s own virtuosic arrangements of two excerpts from The Ruins of Athens round proceedings off with witty aplomb. Highly recommended.
–Michael Quinn