BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas 'Waldstein', 'Appassionata', 'Les Adieux'
Fine violins often improve with age. Pianos, on the other hand, as intricate machines with many moving parts, inevitably deteriorate. So goes the rationale for using a modern replica, rather than an actual antique piano, for recordings. Olga Pashchenko, however, has chosen an 1824 Graf piano, now in the collections of the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, for her traversal of three of the most beloved Beethoven sonatas. A Moscow native, Pashchenko is a graduate of both the Tchaikovsky and Amsterdam conservatories who counts Alexei Lubimov and Richard Egarr among her teachers. She’s a musician of immense skill with a strong point of view. Her choice of this beautiful Graf for her superbly recorded new Alpha disc seems fully justified.
From the outset it is obvious that Pashchenko is the master of the Viennese piano, with its drastically scaled-down movements compared to those required for modern instruments, and the alternative expressive strategies it demands. The fleet opening of the Waldstein is impressive in its crystalline clarity, all the more admirable as the opening quaver accompaniment figure accelerates to perfectly articulate semiquavers. Her engagement of the una corda mechanism is always seamless and effective. The various textures and levels of sonority in the Rondo are brilliantly delineated, with the infamous octave glissandos of the coda delivered in a genuinely whispered pianissimo as Beethoven indicated.
Both the Appassionata and Les adieux are equally remarkable in their individual ways. I’ll confess a partiality for Op 81a, due to Pashchenko’s deft execution of the articulation and phrasing in the first and last movements, so difficult to achieve on the modern piano, and the vivid character she brings to the Andante.
If there is an aspect of Pashchenko’s performances that gives pause for thought, it is that her unruffled poise occasionally fails to convey the intense drama which so often characterises Beethoven. That said, in an age of overheated Beethoven performance, Pashchenko’s cool, calm and collected readings can be refreshing. In the arena of ‘HIP’ Beethoven, already crowded with names like Badura-Skoda, Brautigam, Lubimov and Bilson, her earnest, distinctive voice is a welcome one.