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Rudolf Serkin (pianist) The Art of Interpretation
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in A major D959
Four Impromptus D935
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Recorded February 1966 (Sonata) and Guilford, Vermont, January 1979 (Impromptus)
SONY CLASSICS 5128732 [79.22]

Such is the stark concentration and power of Serkinís Schubert that one listens to this composerís works with the very intensity he habitually brought to bear. The A major recording dates from 1966 and was not the product of Serkinís old age. Yet the embryonic signs are there Ė of the slow tempi in the Allegro, the objectifying look, the sense of scholarly detachment, the incipiently hard touch and a complete lack of beautifying pleasantry. This was the essence, Serkin seems to be saying, and the core stripped of accretions. The sense of involvement is total and unremitting, the Sonata becoming in his hands a text capable of revealing the minutest detail, the most graphic philosophical truth. And yet how do those critics who dismiss Schnabelís Schubert as professorial respond to Serkin? Nothing could be further apart than their responses to this Sonata; these two pianists seem to embody the Apollonian and Dionysian in their responses to it. Serkinís stoic italicisation, his gaunt enunciation is fuelled by clarity and a cool fluency. Schnabelís way is the way of the splintered flesh, the all too bodily.

And the Four Impromptus show the same direction. Serkinís just measure is not, say, Curzonís; indeed Serkinís rhythm is not Curzonís. The Olympian detachment of the former, as if he sees these Impromptus from a vast distance (excepting the F minor which he treats differently), is juxtaposed with Curzonís fallible absorption. If these sound like mutually exclusive perceptions of Schubert then maybe they are. Iím glad to have been reacquainted with Serkinís unique vision of them in these fine sounding transfers complete with wordy notes. For me, though, his vision is remote from my experience; so much the worse for me of course but my heart lies with Curzon, and more particularly with the all too fallible, all too human, Schnabel.

Jonathan Woolf

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