Elisabeth Leonskaja’s Schubert, at its best, is up there
with the greats. I think explicitly of her Dabringaus &
Grimm offering that I reviewed just over a year ago (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Jan04/Schubert_Leonskaja.htm).
‘At its best’ is the key phrase, as a previous Apex reissue
(2002) left me very much colder (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Feb02/Schubert_Leonskaja.htm).
The present release, which includes the greatest of all Schubert
sonatas, D960, sits somewhere between the two.
First up is the C minor, D958, though. The first movement
impresses by Leonskaja’s ability to present big-boned Schubert;
the opening is Schubert at his most Beethovenian. This sits
next to the more intimate, tender side of the composer - the
‘second subject area’ - giving lyrical space without indulgence.
Throughout it is obvious that we are in the presence of a very
The near-hymnic Adagio includes some gorgeous moments;
left-hand staccato around 6’35, for example. These are pitted
against some sforzandi that seem harsh and out-of-place.
The last two movements work well, the Menuetto robust, almost
rustic, containing balm-like contrasts. The final Allegro is
flighty, quirky, its tarantella rhythms given in jewel-like
articulation by Leonskaja.
The great B flat Sonata requires a pianist of the highest
musical vision to sustain its length. For Richter try the 1961
version on Brilliant Classics 92229, where one enters the presence
of greatness – review to follow. Both Richter and Uchida (Philips)
remain, in their different ways, supreme interpreters. Leonskaja
might not join them in the same firmament, but her account has
much to offer.
The slight feeling of unease accorded to the long melody
at the outset is, I suspect, deliberate; the marvellous evenness
of the famous low left-hand trill (1’12) must be. Leonskaja
can give a liquid flow to left-hand accompaniments which seem
to have received equal care in preparation to the Haupstimmen.
The grunting that appears from time to time came as a surprise,
but is not terrifically off-putting. The overall impression
is of ‘rightness’ without attendant greatness, while the piano
itself is a source of joy, beautifully toned and well caught
by Bernhard Mamich (Producer) and Eberhard Sengpiel (Engineer).
The slow movement is serene and includes some truly gorgeous
moments yet refuses to attain greatness. Again it is the final
two movements that fare the best, the Scherzo blessed with the
lightest of touches. The finale keeps you guessing, its fortes
large without ever breaking the tone of the piano. The ‘ping’
- not too technical a term, I hope! - to the treble is a delight
to listen to.
This is a fine, solid interpretation. The disc comes
in with a playing time of just under eighty minutes, and at
the price that is a lot of dots per penny. Leonskaja will not
lead you to the heavenly realms, but she will lead you instead
intelligently and always sensitively through these marvellous