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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonata in A major, D.959 (1828) [41:44]
German Dances, D.820 (1824) [7:57]
Ländler, D.814 (1824) [3:19]
German Dance, D.841 (1824) [1:25]
Waltzes, D.844 (1824)
Christian Zacharias (piano)
rec. 13-14 November 2006, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen


Benjamin Britten rightly described the creative achievement of Schubert's last year, 1828, as a miracle. Included among the many masterpieces the thirty-one year old Schubert composed that year were three piano sonatas, the second of which, in A major, was his penultimate instrumental composition. In the light of this, and of the profundity of the music itself, it is tempting to describe the A major Sonata as an example of Schubert's 'late' style. Yet it is the work of a young man, cruelly taken from the world when in his prime. Had he lived for another forty years, what might he have achieved? 

The Sonata is conceived on a spacious scale and accordingly it has great emotional range. At the same time, however, the tone is intimate and sensitive, and three of the four movements end quietly. The music’s special character is apparent from the beginning, for example in the shaping of the first theme, so full of subtleties in its phrase structure. As any pianist needs be, Zacharias is alert to these matters and brings real personality to the opening bars. His careful attention to details of phrasing sets the standard, and the splendidly clear and atmospheric MDG recording suits the piano tone admirably. 

These features, of course, allow for varied treatments in the beautifully proportioned development section. This, moreover, affords an opportunity for the music’s expressive potential to be explored. 

The Andantino second movement is more dramatic, despite opening with a calm theme in the style of a barcarolle. As the music proceeds, however, the mood darkens and minor keys dominate. At length Zacharias generates a veritable storm of intensity, the more powerful since it appears in the context of the brightness of the remainder of the work. 

The third movement scherzo is at once lively and buoyant, though the music still has its surprises, including lurches back to minor-key intensity. These ‘unexpected’ changes of focus present another challenge to the performer, and while Zacharias handles them confidently, his performance here as elsewhere does not surpass the interpretations of other pianists notable for their association with Schubert. In this work both Alfred Brendel (Philips Duo 438 702 2) and Murray Perahia (Sony MK 44589) immediately come to mind. But make no mistake, Zacharias is not eclipsed in this company, though does he surpass these great pianists. 

The finale makes a point of using the whole range of the keyboard, and the new MDG recording articulates this to telling effect. Zacharias communicates the flowing Allegretto pulse with great sensitivity and emotional shading, allowing for the intensification of the episodes to make its point. 

Terry Barfoot 



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