I was so excited about this concert but it felt like one big missed opportunity. Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas are mindblowing but you have to know the story and the history to get just how incredible they are. Without that the music is reduced.

Eri Nakagawa
Music Auditorium, WA Academy of Performing Arts

Of Beethoven’s thirty two piano sonatas the last three, composed between 1820 and 1822, were especially personal. Sonatas No 31 and 32 were dedicated to Mrs Antonie Brentano, considered by some to be the “Immortal Beloved” addressed in his love letters, and Sonata No 30 to her daughter Maximiliane. The sonatas also have mind-blowing structural and harmonic innovations.

None of this contextual information was explained during a recital by Thai pianist Eri Nakagawa. The concert was titled Immortal Beloved but the lack of program notes meant it was up to Nakagawa to musically convey the emotional riches and technical innovations.

Nakagawa played with bright tone and strong ideas and her insights into the tender sweetness and fierce energy of Beethoven’s music went a long way to redeem some flaws in her playing. Melodic sections were clearly declamed and abrupt contrasts emphasised, as in the moody Six Bagatelles Op 126 which opened the program. A tendency to smudge finger work and miss the occasional note became evident in Sonata No 30. But the variations in the final movement were impressive, including a particularly tender restatement of the original theme.

Nakagawa’s light, fluid scale passages were a highlight of Sonata No 31. The piece becomes increasingly dark and the third movement had a tangible heaviness. Nakagawa came unstuck in the knotty fugue but maintained momentum for a gargantuan ending. More slips marred the Sonata No 32 although the swinging jazz rhythms of the finale were joyously delivered. No wonder they call Beethoven a composing god; this is boogie-woogie one hundred years ahead of its time! Again references to this in the program would have been enlightening.