Classical Music Sentinel Review of Pianist Steven Masi

Jean-Yves Duperron    August 16, 2013 

“I don’t know about you, but sometimes, after listening to certain recordings of Beethoven sonatas interpreted by world-renowned pianists, sponsored by large corporations, and released on major, well-established labels, I come away with a feeling that I’ve just been taken for a ride. By that I mean that I get the impression that the recordings have been digitally manipulated. Just like a photograph of an aging celebrity has been air-brushed or given the “photoshop” treatment to make them seem younger and look much better than they do naturally, some of these recordings simply sound too good to be true. Each and every note is in perfect dynamic balance and rhythmic value with each other, and the capture of the acoustic space around the instrument is always perfect. Highly sophisticated computer software allows for digital data manipulation down to the millisecond. For example, if the recording engineer doesn’t like the sound of one note, he can easily delete it and have it replaced by a “fake” or “simulated” version of that note. Sufficient funds are available to cover extra studio time to gloss over mistakes and polish the sound. But is all that true to the nature of a Beethoven piano sonata?

This new recording, by pianist Steven Masi, is a private production released on a small label, and it shows. The flawless presentation may be missing, but in its place you get an honest interpretation of Beethoven’s music. And when I say this isn’t flawless, doesn’t mean that there are mistakes. Far from it. What I mean is that it sounds like the overall performance by Steven Masi was captured in real time, with the least level of cover up. Here and there a particular note will sound a bit metallic, or an accent will seem too sharp, or a series of consecutive arpeggios will seem uneven, but then these are the indications that there is a live human being at the keyboard, engaged in Beethoven’s sound world, emotions and all. And his technique is to be admired, especially his economical use of the sustain or “damper” pedal. So many pianists, by heavy use of sustain, can muddle over their flaws that way. The selection of opus numbers for this Volume 1 could not have been better. A good representation of both cerebral and expressive Beethoven in equal balance. The expressive beauty taking center stage in Masi’s heartfelt rendition of the slow movement of the Pathétique sonata.

A strong recommendation if you’re looking to steer clear of the “glossy” magazine cover type of production.”