This new Beethoven recital from Perahia presents itself as aristocratically poised but struck me too often as bland. I detect a trend toward caution in Perahia's playing since his thumb injury and slow recovery, but there's also undoubted maturity. He's mostly avoided Beethoven's sonatas, forgoing the chance over forty years to set down a complete cycle, but here Perahia has chosen early sonatas that are for the most prt restrained and classical, which suits his temperament.
These are not technically challenging works, so everything comes down to style and personality. As a touchstone, take the funeral march after which Sonata 12 (Op. 26 no. 1) is named. The romantic way with this movement was to make it slow, somber, and moving in its pathos (Schnabel, Arrau, and Gulda do it that way), while the modern trend is to move faster and, frankly, to erase any sense of grief. Pollini, Richter, and Perahia belong in this camp, yet among them, Perahia is the most blank-faced and uninflected, as if he believes it's good manners to hide your emotions.
Decorum is the hallmark of his Beethoven throughout this CD, although one hears many refined touches, and there are times, such as the first movement of Sonata no. 9 (Op. 14 no. 1) when Perahia's inflections are sprightly and perfectly gauged. Yet even here he indulges in some affetuoso touches that halt the music's momentum and skirt preciousness. His clipped staccato and added bounce in the finale is a nice touch, though, rather in the Brendel mode.
Of the four offered here, my favorite sonata is the "Pastoral" (Op. 28), and here Perahia works wonders. As always Perahia's sense of balance and his shaping of the melodic line in the first movement attract admiration. (Sony's nice recorded sound brings out the pearly quality in Perahia's touch.) Maurizio Pollini adds touches of micro-rubato to break up the continuous flow of melody, an instance where the relaxed, mellow Perahia is more on the right track. Young Jonathan Biss on EMI plays in the same gliding style, but Perahia manages to find more variety and interest in the finale.
In all, I admired what Perahia brings to all this music, with kudos to his "Pastoral," but I found my attention wandering, and in the end I wished for more color and life. Refinement can't carry the day in Beethoven.