Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Piano Sonata in B flat D960;
Piano Sonata in B D575
Lebensstrume for two pianos D968

Klara Wurtz (piano)
Klara Wurtz (and Pieter van Winkel, piano) in D968
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99678/1 (DDD) [78.08]

When I reviewed Anthony Goldstone's splendid discs of the Schubert sonatas I expressed my misgivings about the quality of Schubert's piano sonatas. I received some rather strongly worded mail slating me for daring to speak about the weaknesses in Schubert's works. I was asked the question as to why I bothered to review music by a composer that I clearly did not like.

The answer is obvious.

Good music can be played badly and bad music, if there is such a thing, can be played well. Tony Goldstone's performances were very fine and I said so. Being a professional I did not allow my assessment of Schubert's music to cloud my judgement as to how it was played.

And so more Schubert has landed on my desk this time played by Klara Wurtz whose Mozart sonatas I reviewed earlier this year (Regis Records) and they were very fine performances full of sparkle, vigour and vitality.

This disc begins with the B flat sonata which is a work I cannot identify with. The opening movement is marked on the disc as allegro moderato whereas my scores call it molto moderato. Allegro means merry, quick and lively and this movement is not. Counting the repeat this movement is 481 bars in 4 time and lasts 21 minutes thirty nine seconds which is 1924 beats making up 1800 seconds thereby giving a metronome marking of crotchet equals 64 and that is very slow. It is an adagio not an allegro or even a moderato. The second movement is marked andante and lasts 582 seconds with a total of 516 beats which is crochet equals 67 which is another very slow movement, another adagio.

Therefore we have two successive movements lasting over 30 minutes which make up very slow and unadventurous music. It takes a lot of stamina to listen to slow music of this length unless it is of exceptional quality. An example of excellent slow music of length is the slow movement of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony.

Consequently, the Schubert is rather anaemic. Not only are the first two movements slow but lacking in dramatic content. The music is predominantly quiet. This is often justified by the definition 'serene'. The third movement is a scherzo and trio wanting to be a fast waltz and is marked con delicatezza and so we have three movements so far lasting 35 minutes of very subdued music. The finale is marked allegro ma non troppo which some music scholars say is a contradiction in terms. Allegro means quite lively and merry. Non troppo means not too much. This movement begins with accented octaves G s which stand out like sore thumbs and is repeated in bars 10, 32, 64, 224, 233, 312, 344, 490 and 496. This is very wearisome. It is repetition and lack of development in Schubert that many of us find unsatisfactory.

The big opening movement has its main theme some 15 times although twice it is slightly varied. There are no fewer than 14 fermatas which hinders the music's progress and development. Apart from the written repeat of the first 120 odd bars there are also repeats in the music itself. We have constant vamping of the same chord, for example 15 vamps of the tonic of D minor (bar 82 ff.) and many other examples. Another weakness is the reliance upon broken chords and arpeggios, for example bar 140 onwards and so on. Put all this together and we can see that Schubert padded his music out and how he had no real idea as to how to develop his material as did Haydn and Beethoven, for example. Yet it will be said that he wrote good melodies.

But the good news is that Ms Wurtz's performances are first rate. She has the courage to put in Schubert's 'wrong note' in bar 2 and the legion of other times it appears. Her attention to details is remarkable and her fingerwork a source of great delight. Her playing has an innocence and charm that exceeds Anthony Goldstone's.

I could analyse the B major sonata in the same way but, in the last investigation the fact is that the performance could hardly be bettered. Ms Wurtz style might convince me to listen to Schubert whereas no other pianist has.

The concluding piano duet has a charm.

If you love Schubert, this disc and its companion is for you. For music students having to play for examinations I recommend this disc. It is also at a bargain price.

And to the unprejudiced, consider my comments about Schubert and you may find, as many others have, that he may well be over-rated.

David Wright

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