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Vladimir Sofronitsky (piano)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Impromptu in C minor D899 No.1
Impromptu in A flat major D935 No.2
Impromptu in G flat major D899 No.3
Moments musicaux D780:-
No.1 in C major
No.2 in A flat major
No.3 in F minor
No 4 in C sharp minor
No.6 in A flat major
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) – Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Der Müller und der Bach
Der Doppelgänger
Vladimir Sofronitsky (piano)
Recorded Moscow, 1960 except Impromptu in C minor D899 No.1 (1953) and the Moments musicaux D780 (1959)
VISTA VERA VVCD-00031 [73.27]



Sofronitsky (1901-61) has been variably and erratically served by record companies. I seem to recall that his discs were available some time ago from Denon in Japan in transfers generally superior (but without English notes) to those on Arlecchino – both were multi-volume series. Certainly he is included in the ‘Great Pianists of the Century’ edition – Chopin and Scriabin – and there are some scattered memorials of his art on Kingdom, BMG and Urania. But Vista Vera has now entered the market with its own contribution and the first available to me is this Schubert and Schubert-Liszt disc. Let’s hope a comprehensive edition is not too unrealistic a hope.

Whatever the controversy surrounding him – the exceptional esteem in which many held him balanced by a certain scorn of the last, compromised recordings – we can be grateful at least for the sixty hours or so of his performances that have been preserved – whether in the form of commercial discs or, his preferred medium during his last years, live recordings.

Here his playing spans the years 1953-60. The C minor Impromptu from D899 is full of drama and extravagant rubati, its contours etched with exaggerated intensity, whilst the A flat major (D935 No.2) is quixotic indeed, with slow and fast tempi stretching the piece almost – but not quite – to breaking point. The G flat major is, to my ears, more Chopin then Schubert and amongst the slowest performances I’ve heard. The Moments Musicaux were recorded in 1959 in a more resonant acoustic then the Impromptus and don’t suffer from quite the same level of intervention; he plays five of the six, dropping the fifth. The A flat major (No.2) is grave and the F minor wryly sedate whilst the concluding A flat major (No.6) is deliberate and intensely sombre. But when it comes to Sofronitsky’s unevenness as a performer, especially in his last days, one can make a comparison between, say, the G flat major Impromptu in this 1960 performance and that on BMG’S ‘Russian Piano School’ Sofronitsky issue. Both recorded within months of each other in 1960 the BMG Impromptu has the same approach to rubato and sight subservience of the left hand in the opening paragraphs but is much more rigorously controlled, tighter and more apt. It shows just how changeable Sofronitsky could be. The Schubert-Liszt transcriptions derive from a 1960 session and are examples of his touching bravura in this repertoire. In Erlkönig there is some loss of impetus and submerged right hand detail but there’s compensatory gravity in Der Doppelgänger.

Notes about source material are minimal but transfers sound quite acceptable. I’ve not heard competing editions, particularly the Japanese set, so collectors should certainly note their existence.

Jonathan Woolf


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