Classical Music: Alfredo Perl and Maurizio Pollini / Beethoven cycles WH / RFH, London

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The Independent Culture
When he made his formal debut at the age of 10, Saint-Saens offered any of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas the audience cared to choose as an encore. To perform all 32 in a cycle still seems a considerable feat and, at 31, the Chilean pianist Alfredo Perl isn't doing badly. Last Wednesday he gave the third of his seven recitals, with a programme that included the pair of relatively modern two-movement sonatas, Op 49, the "Funeral March" Sonata, Op 26, and the two of Op 27, both of which Beethoven described as "Quasi una fantasia".

Perl began with one of the most challenging of the early sonatas, in E flat, Op 7. It's an ambitious piece, with a slow movement in which silence is as eloquent as the phrases that heave themselves out of it, and Perl didn't quite give them enough time or weight. He also understated the exaltation of the first movement and the fury that for a while breaks the urbane mould of the finale. Yet on its own discreetly measured terms, this was a thoughtful and sensitive performance, characteristic of the whole evening in its mellowness and sober judgement. By the end of January 1997, when Perl gives the last three sonatas in his final recital, although he's not programming the entire cycle in chronological order, anyone who has followed it through will be able to assess the way he's paced himself. For a marathon is likely to modify a pianist's expenditure of energy. There was no sense of boredom on Wednesday, nor any impression that Perl was coasting, yet he consistently muted Beethoven's explosions by restricting his dynamic range, so that in the "Funeral March" Sonata, the scherzo and finale seemed unduly mild. Still, with four more recitals to come, in December and January, Perl's Beethoven is certainly worth hearing.

Opening his chronological survey of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday night, Maurizio Pollini was nothing if not explosive, though he made the slow movement of Op 7 very peaceful. In the three Sonatas of Op 2 he adopted some extremely fast tempi, particularly in the outer movements of the last, and he was inclined to cut corners on rhythmic values, including rests, with an air of impatience. Rushing on and off the platform and almost taking us by surprise with the promptness with which he began each work, the effect was quite dizzying and just a bit too automatic. His intellectual command, not to mention his technical mastery, were absolute, but there was little sense of discovery, of the music growing from within. Perhaps Pollini has grown too used to it.

Perl's next recital 13 Dec at the RFH (0171-960 4242); Pollini continues 4pm, 8 Dec at the Wigmore Hall (0171-935 2141)

Adrian Jack