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Mikhail Pletnev in Person
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 2 No. 2 [24:36]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chaconne in D minor, arr. Busoni [14:48]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
A maiden’s wish (arr. Liszt) [3:38]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Nocturne in C sharp minor [4:13]
November, from The Seasons [3:32]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Impromptus D899 Nos. 2 and 3 [10:55]
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
rec. November 1996, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg (Beethoven, Bach); June 1998, Villa Senar, Weggis, Lucerne (Schubert); June 2005, Stadtcasino, Basel (Chopin, Tchaikovsky)
ONYX CLASSICS 4110 [61:42]

What kind of pianist warms up for a recording session, with the microphones on, by sitting down and playing an entire Beethoven sonata from memory? Mikhail Pletnev. This Onyx album preserves a series of warm-ups spanning Pletnev’s DG years, and now authorized for release. Sound quality varies widely, from the close, warm, full-bodied Bach/Busoni Chaconne to the distant, dry Schubert impromptus. What doesn’t vary is the joy of hearing Pletnev off-the-cuff.
 
His authorization of the release is a little defensive: he begs us to remember that these are one-offs, played for an audience of himself, usually to test the piano and assess its unique qualities. You can hear him experimenting with different voicing and dynamics, purely for his own interest and delight, like the Bach/Busoni variation (at 1:46) where he switches the emphasis between the hands and offers a beautifully hushed melody. Indeed, it’s a moving, romantic performance all around, either despite or because of the frequent lurches in tempo.
 
The Beethoven sonata also has push-and-pull speed adjustments that sound like a great artist trying out ideas for his own curiosity. “Would it sound good if I did this a little more softly? Yes, but maybe not enough to try again.” But there is greater delicacy and lightness of step. The result is a fascinating performance, and for me at least, a quick fantasy about stopping by Pletnev’s place to eavesdrop on practice time.
 
The Schubert G flat impromptu might seem rushed, until a big slowdown at about 1:20 which is both indulgent and marvelous. By the way, the piano used in the Schubert sounds dry and wheezy, a little old and frail. That’s because it’s Rachmaninov’s own piano, in the composer’s Swiss home, used for recording the Rachmaninov “Hommage” album.
 
I wish the booklet explained what really was being recorded at each session. I know Pletnev is being modest about the contents of this CD, but it’s a quick informal peek into a master musician’s brain, and does not at all disappoint.
 
Brian Reinhart 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonata 2